At first glance, Milwaukee artist Mark Mulhern’s [MA ’78] work seems both surprisingly simple and deceptively complex. Whatever the painting’s specific context, the artist’s figures seem to float in bright seas of blue, green and yellow. Basic in their individual details, the characters often share more complex natures made evident by their poses, their captured movements or their glances.

“I’ve always been a figurative artist, which has a lot to do with my college training,” says Mulhern, 73, a Portage native and graduate of both Milwaukee’s former Layton School of Art and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “It seems to be more of a European tradition. I enjoy abstraction, but it must operate at a high level that strikes a balance between abstraction and narrative.”

Thirty of the artist’s paintings, all heavily influenced by considerable time he has and continues to spend in France, comprise the core of “Mark Mulhern: The Pleasure of Seeing,” an exhibit now on display at the Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bend. The exhibit is both a retrospective and the largest exhibition of his work to date, according to MOWA Executive Director Laurie Winters.

“Mulhern’s work is strikingly original and today he is arguably producing his best paintings,” Winters adds. “An in-depth assessment of his long career was definitely in order.”