Since 1967, SFMOMA’s SECA Art Award has honored artists working in the San Francisco Bay Area whose artistic excellence has not yet received substantial recognition. In 2019, one of the artists selected for this award was Marlon Mullen, a Richmond, California-based painter who pulls photography from magazines as his primary source, transforming the images into vividly painted abstractions. Historically, SFMOMA has conducted video interviews with SECA Award winners, producing mini-documentaries about each artist as part of our longstanding Artist Interview video program. In Marlon’s case, however, a traditional sit-down interview wasn’t an option, as Marlon has autism spectrum disorder and is largely non-verbal.
While some viewed Marlon’s condition as a challenge or a barrier to telling his story, we viewed it as an opportunity. How could we create a compelling video profile that radically let Marlon shine as an artist given the constraints? Some suggested we interview people close to Marlon in lieu of interviewing Marlon. Others suggested we bring in a narrator to serve as a guide to Marlon’s story. While we took those suggestions as well-intentioned, we ultimately decided not to adopt them. Why not? Because at SFMOMA we’re committed to letting artists tell their own stories. And we believe that the video we produced of Marlon honors both that commitment as well as the genius of this under-recognized artist.