dc3 Art projects is proud to feature Mitch Mitchell at booth 1216 at Art Toronto in the Metro Toronto Convention Centre
October 24 - 28, 2013
Written by Sarah Fillmore
Mitch Mitchell is a student of history. He's a scholar, but also a practitioner of his studies. His interests are wide ranging and probing, and his surveys of the past are made present and immediate in his work.
Using print media as his constant language, Mitchell tests the limits of its fluency, never content to remain long on familiar ground. He takes great risks and insists, through large scale installations such as Distance Arc, that printed matter matters, and that it is virtually unbounded, and certainly not tied to the dimensions of a piece of paper or the size of a press bed.
Mitchell employs traditional techniques, working with, and mastering, age-old printing methods: etching, photogravure, intaglio, and silkscreen, Mitchell builds from these, updating and challenging each to yield to his vision. His work takes liberties with tradition, and through these he pulls "print" into sculpture, performance and film.
Print's idiom in the hands of Mitchell is the language of the West, of cowboys and tin men, of settlers and the working class. It's of the East too, of everyman, of the rise of the American dream, and of the sacrifices made along the way to achieve that way of life.
Tradition is the backbone of Mitchell's work, and unseen by the viewer its underpinnings of family, ritual, and convention. At work in his studio, Mitchell repeats movements hundreds and thousands of times. He quietly performs his tasks, inking plates, cutting paper, folding, printing, and assembling. The labour is evident in the finished work, which is not only technically taxing but physically so as well. His pace is set by Curtis Mayfield, Lauryn Hill, Bob Dylan, the Roots. The beat drives the pace and the pace is steady. His work ethic is extraordinary, and determined by his history.
Mitchell grew up outside Chicago, and his extended family played a large role in his upbringing. The house his grandparents lived in was built by Mitchell's grandfather, a coal miner. Its basement housed a boiler that was coal-fed. The dust permeated the basement and has made its way to Mitchell's work via dusty black inks and ink-soaked felt. His grandmother's resilience is there too- the unvoiced story of a dinner made for a dozen people with a single burner and three cast iron skillets is whispered through the strength of the fragile matter Mitchell chooses as his medium. The ethos of hard work, of overcoming adversity, and of doing it yourself that was imbued in the young Mitchell through his grandparents example lives in his work. Invoked herein are many histories - universal ones as well as personal. His family's history and presence is imprinted in the very fibre of the work.
The World's Columbian Exposition, the Chicago World's Fair, took place in 1893. It shaped dominant thinking about art, architecture, city building and propelled the optimism of the American spirit. That Fair, that time, was animated by a spirit of optimism, of ambition, of pervasive faith in technology and a giddy feeling that there were really no limits. It is very much the spirit of Chicago, of the Midwest, and that history has inspired Mitchell. It provides a point of reference for his work. His examination of the optimism and subsequent deflation of that sentiment is reflected in Distance Arc, the rise and fall of its balloon echoing that of the national zeitgeist.
At once balloon, lung and sac, Distance Arc is a printed piece. It is simple, really: rust printed on newsprint. Mitchell acknowledges its roots as print, knows its ephemeral qualities and imbues it with a sense of the history of the print industry. The mediums passage from booming, popular industry to artisanal status is never far from Mitchell's thought. His use of newsprint leads one to a direct correlation with the tenuous future of mass-market newspapers, one of the great industrial holdouts in the print world. Distance Arc too, seems doomed, yet nevertheless perseveres. The work comes with instructions and permissions for its recreation. It comes with the acceptance of its eventual failure. Its author offers hope by way of its possible rebirth. The work is repeatable: Distance Arc is a print of a print.
In its production, Mitchell oiled the paper, a necessary step toward strengthening the fragile substrate. The oiled quilt squares are hand sewn according to a pattern Mitchell devised. Each stich further weakens the already perilously thin paper. This fragile membrane takes on a skin-like surface and, when assembled immediately reads as human. The skin is stretched, inflated and deflated, expanding and contracting at seemingly random intervals. Mitchell's balloon breathes and gasps, lung-like. The gasps, like the newsprint, offer a subtle commentary on the industry of printing specifically, and more generally, on the dying industrial age embodied in his native "rust-belt." Through this, Mitchell sees his own past and future that of his parents and grandparents, that of his country as well.
Mitchell's practice is built on his strength of spirit, body and mind. Not content to merely master printing techniques, Mitchell pulls print off the wall and into the centre of the room. He pushes to fill space, making large-scale sculptural work, intervening in warehouses and gallery spaces and ultimately seeing his prints as architecture themselves. His vision is matched by his indomitable will. He doesn't rest until that vision is made tangible. It would not be misplaced to draw a connection to American folk hero, John Henry, a steel-driving man with an unbeatable human spirit. Mitchell uses print to tell his story, his history. He pays homage to hard work. His love of the medium, his chosen medium, is evident, and his innovative approach to the medium and his evocative use of and interpretation of history through the art of printing, gives voice to the unsung workers of our industrial past and present.
Sarah Fillmore is the Chief Curator at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia and the Head Curator of Canada's Sobey Art Award. She has curated numerous solo and group exhibitions including the travelling retrospective exhibition by Canadian Abstract painter Jacques Hurtubise, realist painter Mary Pratt, Lisa Liption: Stop @ Forever and an upcoming solo exhibition by Graeme Patterson. Group exhibitions include SKIN: The Art of Seduction, Canadian Pioneers, The Last Frontier and the annual Sobey Art Award. Sarah is also curating an upcoming solo exhibition of recent work by Mitch Mitchell at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.