Thérèse Mulgrew – Q + A

Ahead of her debut print release with us, we had the pleasure of visiting Chicago based artist, Thérèse Mulgrew, in Berlin during her residency with Better Go South gallery.

Thérèse (b.1991) began painting in 2019 following a career in the New York fashion industry. She has since relocated to Chicago and has had numerous solo shows including Freight + Volume (NY), Better Go South (Berlin) as well as group shows including Guts Gallery (London) and Piermarq (Sydney).

Thérèse’s paintings offer intimate glimpses of cinematic normality. When viewed in isolation, each painting allows you to revel in it’s incandescently rendered details. Viewed as a whole her paintings appear more like stills from a film offering enigmatic clues of an unfolding storyline.

Up until 4 years ago you worked in the Fashion industry in New York.
What drew you into painting full-time?

Thérèse: I wasn’t creatively fulfilled working in the fashion industry (it was an industry that I fell into rather than actively chose) so after a while, I decided to start taking drawing classes a couple days a week after work – which eventually led me to take my first painting class. From there, it was pretty immediate – after taking one month-long course, I decided to leave New York and move back to the midwest for a summer and I made my first series of paintings in my childhood bedroom while living with my parents.

I got my first solo show in New York with those paintings and the sales from that show allowed me to attempt to be a full time painter. I’d spent my 20’s desperately in search of purpose and creative fulfillment, so when I started painting, it felt like home and I knew that in order to be an artist, risks must be taken so I didn’t waste any time.

The Wolfgang Tillmans exhibition “If One Thing Matters, Everything Matters” comes to mind when looking at your paintings, frequently depicting seemingly mundane objects and the moments between moments. What draws you to the mundane and ‘in-between’?

Thérèse: I love this reference! The mundane and in-between are everything and being able to notice the beauty in those things has kept me afloat in life. Growing up my parents would often host dinner parties and once in a while, I would quietly sneak in at the end of the night and sit on my mother’s lap while the adults talked and finished their wine and the candles were nearly all the way melted.

I was too young to keep up with the conversation but I remember I loved to watch their hands – smoking cigarettes and playing with their napkins, swirling their wine, adjusting silverware, reapplying lipstick. Those things stick with me and are definitely an influence on what I choose to paint.

How has your relationship with portraiture evolved since leaving the fashion industry and becoming a painter?

Thérèse: At the beginning, I was definitely more interested in classical portraiture and now I’m more drawn to capturing moments in time. The fashion industry had an impact in the beginning as far as this idea that the model is aware of the camera – often looking straight ahead and participating with the viewer – and now it’s more inspired by cinema so when I do portraits, it’s very rare that the model looks at us. I want to capture them in movement or thought, as if they’re unaware of our presence – which also adds to the intimacy of the work.

What role does narrative play when creating a new series of work?

More recently, it plays a huge role. I come up with specific narratives for each series – which tend to be fictional with a strong influence from autobiographical experiences. I want the paintings to feel like watching a short film.

When do you know a painting is done?

Thérèse: When it looks clean and a little bit sparkly. I feel lucky in that I don’t battle with this often in a way that many painters do and I think part of it is also that I’m not too precious with the work. If it looks good then it’s done and I’m ready to move on. I’ve definitely felt like I’m not “artist” enough because I don’t spend months or years on one painting, but I’ve learned that my specific style looks best when it’s not too overworked, a mistake I’ve made in the past. Now I try to be gentle with myself and trust my gut to move on when I feel like it.

Since becoming a full-time painter, what is one thing you have got better at?

Thérèse: I’ve definitely become a much faster painter but, most importantly, I think I’ve discovered my voice and my style more, figured out more clearly what I’m trying to say with the work. However, that’s still a process that I’m in and may continue to be in for a long time. It’s part of the journey.

If you could only paint in one place, where would it be? 

Thérèse: In my apartment in Chicago with my cats napping in the sun on the floor next to me. There’s nothng like the comfort of home for me. But it is always thrilling to get to experience painting in a new place.  

Which contemporaries of yours are you currently a fan of?

Thérèse: I don’t know that I would consider these people “contemporaries” because they are so far ahead of me but some painters that really inspire me are: Tali Lennox, Chloe Wise, Jenna Gribbon, Jordan Casteel, Noelia Towers, Amanda Wall. As well as my mother, Wendy Rolfe, who will always be one of my favorite artists.


“Overflowing Champagne”
is released this Thursday 28th September at 1pm (UK) via our webstore

Edition of 30
45 x 57cm
Archival Pigment Print
Hahnemühle Photo Rag Satin 310gsm
£200 + shipping and applicable local taxes