Born in 1919 in Chickasha, Oklahoma, Lee Mullican developed an early interest in Native American art, which led to a lifetime involvement with primitive, ethnic and folk art forms. His participation in the influential Dynaton group in the San Francisco Bay Area in the early 1950s played an important role in the art communities of Northern and Southern California.
Mullican attended the Abilene Christian College in Texas from 1937 to 1939, the University of Oklahoma from 1939 to 1941 and the Kansas City Art Institute in Missouri in 1941. He also studied with Fletcher Martin and Stanley Hayter. His first sense of abstraction came from his work during World War II as a topographical draftsman using aerial photography and mapping techniques.
In 1947 Mullican moved to the Bay Area of San Francisco where he had several one-man shows at the San Francisco Museum of Art. In 1951 Mullican, with Gordon Onslow Ford and Wolfgang Paalen, formed the Dynaton movement, a group whose goal was to produce art that incorporated both the natural and spiritual worlds. In 1959 he was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in Painting, which financed a yearlong stay in Rome and a tour of Europe. Upon his return to California, he began teaching at U.C.L.A. In 1973 and 1976 Mullican had solo shows at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and in 1980, a retrospective of his work was held at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery.