'He was always happy': Mark Anthony Mulligan inspired Louisville through more than his art

Mark Anthony Mulligan died this week but left a mark on Louisville through his unique art and joyful spirit, those who knew him said.

Mulligan was born in Louisville and was a recongnizable figure in the community, producing art with markers, paint and crayons that found a place in local and national galleries. But when the acclaimed Black artist wasn't working on his latest piece, he could often be seen on Transit Authority of River City buses, according to an obituary, or spending time on public benches or businesses around the city.

Mulligan was preceded in death by his parents, Lee Edward Mulligan Sr. and Lucille Ethelda Gowdy, and two sisters, Shirley A. Badon and Sharon E. Breckinridge. Survivors of Mulligan include his siblings, Betty Dickerson, Janice Lee Freeman, Lee Edward Mulligan Jr. and Angela M. Robinson. He died Monday at age 59 at Wedgewood Healthcare Center in Clarksville, Indiana.

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Mulligan's art is colorful and bright, frequently depicting streetscapes he'd see during his trips through Louisville. He also wrote songs, those who knew him said. He spent much of his life homeless and could often be found singing and dancing with a cheerful attitude that Darlene Franklin, TARC's assistant director of transportation and a driver for more than a decade, said was infectious.

"He always had a smile on his face," Franklin said. "He always called all the drivers 'mom' or 'dad.'"

Mulligan's unique art showed how he viewed the world, according to Julia Finch, the interim director of the Kentucky Folk Art Center in Morehead where his works were exhibited in 1998 and 2005. His works are crowded and bright, depicting the streets of the city where he spent his days.

Spicey Noodles Heights - Mark Anthony Mulligan
Spicey Noodles Heights - Mark Anthony Mulligan

"Showing those creative impulses gives an interesting comparison showing how he was struggling with some of the same issues across Kentucky," Finch said. "... You get down to a deeper level to his experiences based on him living on these streets. For more rural audiences, they get a chance to know Louisville in a really intimate way through Mark's images,"

Still, it was his bright attitude that left its mark on many people he met.

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Franklin said Mulligan's "vibe" was always happy. She recounted a time when she helped the local artist recover his ID in Prospect, more than 40 minutes away. Mulligan was always cheerful, she said, never wavering even when stressful times came.

"He was always happy, whether or not he got on my bus," she said. "It seemed like he never let anything get him down."

Winter In Parkland - Mark Anthony Mulligan
Winter In Parkland - Mark Anthony Mulligan

He was influential as well. Florida art gallery Modernist Icon said his works "reflect his personal experience of the city that he encounters as he rides buses and walks around town."

His attitude left a mark on TARC drivers and others who met him, Franklin said. And Finch said his artwork will continue to inspire even after his death.

"I think it gives audiences an opportunity to connect through the common finding that we are all familiar with," Finch said. "When you read the text and look at the way he aligned the streets with landmarks that are important to him, then it's like you are seeing a big picture that we are all familiar with."

Correction: This story was updated to attribute a quote about Anthony's works to Modernist Icon.

Reach Caleb Stultz at cstultz@courier-journal.com.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Mark Anthony Mulligan, Louisville artist, leaves legacy, TARC impact