As the final exhibition after two-and-a-half years of self-described pure bliss and raging crisis enduring 16 – 18 hour work days, Mitch Mitchell's The Longing Focal rests somewhere between the vertigo and the sublime for both the artist and the viewer.
Building from this past January's installation, Tar Plane Wayfarer, inside the empty storefront of the former Red Strap Market, Mitchell continues finding inspiration from his time in northern Alberta, sneaking onto a tar sands site and finding himself in an environment that has no equal scope, scale or context. Interested in how viewers can incorporate their body into a space, Mitchell is not your typical printmaker. Moving from 2D towards the 3D, from the flat to the kinetic, the Illinois native identifies more as a print artist, pointing to the low brow Chicago scene of intermedia works as points of inspiration.
As the viewer walks through FAB gallery, Mitchell consciously places black and white lithography prints first, feeling they are the expected, traditional works one expects in a printmaking show. Digitally manipulated to accentuate nondescript architectural shapes and shadows, the works subtly shift into photopolymer gravure prints, which is a non-toxic version of the highly technical photogravure process. Inventing the non-toxic water-based process to reach this point, Mitchell also built, dismantled and rebuilt each model until the structures could no longer be held together.
Trial and error experimentation have been integral to Mitchell's MFA process, and his praxis. "I came here to do something I've never done before," he says days before the opening of his show and defense. "I was always an analogue person, so starting with Photoshop, I was like a kid drawing with a crayon for the first time, and stumbling through it, I came up with this work."
In the lower part of the gallery, Mitchell shows a selection from his print suite, an unbound book without any words. With 17 pages in total, Mitchell wanted to tell a linear story with various visual entry points, an abstract story that disorientates the narrative composition from beginning to end, but with no clear conclusion. The desired illusion of disorientation did not translate into the linearity of a book structure, but the concept of creating multiple portals into the same experience carries through into the remainder of the show.
The strongest works in the exhibition are the large works printed directly onto gator board. Created from the mundane objects found inside the print studio, from tools used in the print process, print type, mylar, even the printing bed, the porous raised textures of winter-influenced landscapes took one year to fully realize.
"I didn't use a single scraper in this body of work—I threw it out," Mitchell shares, referring to the gritty, visually haptic quality of the works. As a result, there is an unusual contrast between the harsh and soft, which incidentally translates to the rolling landscapes from his midwest roots, an abstracted landscape speckled with abrupt structures.
From his wide-open homeland to the unfamiliar obstructions found in the tar sands, Mitchell focuses on the idea of discovery of landscape in his last piece, which is part-sculptural, part-kinetic installation. Factoring in notions of security and curiosity, Mitchell invites the viewer to crouch and peer through peepholes to view into the internal cosmos of an alien environment. From the second floor of the gallery, viewers can experience the light breathing of the topography, a light layer of sawdust that heaves and shifts, as if sighing. Playing with perspective from the external to the internal, from surface to the core, Mitchell is inquiring further into imagery that cannot just be viewed, but must be lived and breathed.
All image credits: Mitch Mitchell 2009
*First published in Vue Weekly