Obits for All: Mark Anthony Mulligan

Mark Anthony Mulligan died November 28, 2022. He was 59.

Obituary written by his friends Al Gorman, who turns Ohio River trash into art; Gregory Luchini Maddox, who directed the 2015 documentary short Peacelands/Mark Anthony Mulligan; and longtime Louisville gallery owner Chuck Swanson.

If you’d like to share a memory about Mark, you can do so here: Obits for All

Examples of Mark Anthony Mulligan’s art

What’s your earliest memory of him?

“Meeting Mark on Bardstown Road, summer of 1987. I had just moved to town to pursue a life in the arts of my own. He was selling his art in the streets, and I bought a piece from him.” — Gorman

“1987. Al Gorman invited Mark to the gallery, and he shared some of his pictures with us.” — Swanson

“I remember Mark at the corner of Bardstown Road and Eastern Parkway waving at passing cars, singing, smiling. He would also sit on a bench on that corner for hours creating art, talking with friends and fans, selling his artwork.” — Maddox

What would you put on a playlist of songs that remind you of him?

“‘Thank God for Captain Ds,’ ‘You Must Withstand the Wind,’ ‘The Louisville Song’ — all tunes penned by Mark Anthony Mulligan.” — Gorman

What did he look like?

“Animated, alive, inspired.” — Maddox

“A large, friendly man with a gapped-tooth smile and wide, expressive eyes.” — Gorman

“Big and scary to some people — until they got to know him.” — Swanson

What were his nicknames?

“The Ashland Hillbilly, Minister Mark, the Ashland Kid, the Sign and Logo Artist — all nicknames he gave himself. But his family called him Tony.” — Gorman

“MAM.” — Swanson

“He sometimes signed his work: Black Artist.” — Maddox

Favorite thing to do together?

“Talk about life, Louisville, God, the meaning of life and how to be helpful and encouraging to all we run into each day.” — Maddox

His most noticeable quirk?

“He loved to sing and amuse people, often commuters, at the intersection of Bardstown Road and Eastern Parkway.” — Gorman

“He was a 350-pound man with the widest smile ever who danced and sang out on the streets and waved at everyone who passed by.” — Swanson

“Mark loved to mug and make faces. And he loved to call people by fun names such as ‘Dad!’ or ‘Mom!’” — Maddox

Now that he’s gone, what story or anecdote do you find yourself remembering?

“Not so much one anecdote, but the hundreds of themed and illustrated letters and mail he sent me over the years. Some envelopes were so covered with drawings that it was a wonder the postal carrier knew where to deliver them. Some arrived with improper or no postage, but they made it to my mailbox regardless. I think the universe wanted me to receive his letters, so I could help tell part of his story.” — Gorman

“He was playing Santa Claus for Bardstown Road Aglow and was concerned that he couldn’t fit the stuffing in front that came with the suit. Most interesting Santa ever.” — Swanson

“Several times when I came upon Mark on a bench and he didn’t see me approaching. I would hear him talking out loud to God in a conversational tone. It really sounded like he was conversing with God, and I often wondered if Mark was a mystic, a child of God, a holy man.” — Maddox

What details about him will you always remember?

“He often wrote me letters which would begin, ‘When you receive these few lines, I hope you will be as good as I am?’ Which was often far from Mark’s reality because he was a mental-health sufferer.” — Gorman

“He loved to watch Bob Ross and Bert and Ernie. Big Macs, Big Red and diet Mountain Dew.” — Swanson

Can you think of a time that he did or said something that had an impact on you?

“His art had an impact on me. Rather than decry the rampant commercialism of contemporary life, Mark saw a spiritual silver lining in all the signs and logos that formed a big part of his art. In Mark’s view, all of this information was filled with purpose straight from the Creator. To me, there was something revelatory about this.” — Gorman

“He taught me about kindness and charity by giving so much of what little money he had to other homeless people. I mean, he could confound me when I would pay him money for his art — only to find out that he gave most of it away.” — Swanson

Who would you pick to play him in a movie?

“Keenan from SNL, something that was actually discussed at one time.” — Swanson

“There isn’t anybody in Hollywood remotely similar to him.” — Gorman

Where’d you eat together in Louisville?

“I think we shared a Kizito cookie on more than one occasion.” — Gorman

“I would go into Qdoba at the corner of Bardstown Road and Eastern Parkway and bring us out food.” — Maddox

Where’d he take visitors?

“He lived mostly on the streets and didn’t take people anywhere, except in his exceptional art.” — Gorman

“On a spiritual and inspiring journey into his imagination — through his persona, artworks and songs.” — Maddox

What’s something you did together in Louisville that you’ll never forget?

“We left town together, twice, to attend art exhibitions he was the focus of in Cincinnati and Morehead, Kentucky. The first time, in 1990, was for his first art show, at which he also performed his songs. Later, in 2005, for Mark’s retrospective at the Kentucky Folk Art Center in Morehead, he also sang at. Both times were among the few times in his life that he left the city.” — Gorman

“For Peacelands, I sat and filmed him for two hours at the Healing Place while he created an artwork from blank page to finished work.” — Maddox

“I filmed him creating a painting from start to finish while we talked. I think he put both of us into some kind of trance.” — Swanson

What always made him laugh?

“He laughed at everything but loved bad puns and wordplay, which can be found throughout his art.” — Gorman

What made him cuss?

“Having to take his prescriptions, which he equated more with illicit drug use than medicine and believed limited and capped what he could do and earn from his art.” — Gorman

What groups was he in?

“The homeless community in Louisville. The outsiders. The outcasts, to a certain extent. Street artists. Folk artists. The believers in God.” — Maddox

What’s something only those closest to him would know?

“Mark valued his songs as much as his visual art and twice attempted to go to Nashville to become a country music singer.” — Gorman

“He wasn’t always as happy-go-lucky as he seemed, and he always wished he could please his father, even after his father died.” — Swanson

“He loved, respected, and looked up to police officers in Louisville. He said he appreciated their kindness to him. Also, most TARC drivers were his favorites.” — Maddox

What’s one thing you want readers to know about him?

“He was a significant national self-taught artist and a generous friend.” — Gorman

“Mark was a brilliant artist and wordsmith . He had an innate sense of how to construct a painting or a drawing . He loved people and he loved Louisville, and he had an encyclopedic knowledge of all of Louisville, both past and present.” — Swanson

“He never lost hope despite great challenges and disabilities. He created art up until his last week of life.” — Maddox