Friday, September 23, 2011

Speaking with Laura Mitchell

The Elephant of Eastbury: The Book, Laura Mitchell
Acrylic and Mixed Media on canvas.

Can you tell us a little about your background?
I grew up in a hick town in Virginia, USA and quickly moved to the nearest most cosmopolitan city I could find (Washington DC) as soon as I could! I studied music and English Literature in university since I had a very unpleasant and negative drawing professor early on, but my passion for visual art won out later when I realised I hated playing in orchestras. I returned for a MFA in design where for my my MFA thesis exhibition, I staged a fine art rather than design oriented multimedia installation based on exploration of a multi-tracked narrative. I had formerly made several artists books instead of presenting visual diaries for various critiques during the coursework. This was the beginning of my passion for the depiction of “narratives”, stories, or as we say in the design industry “type and image”. After a career as an art director/graphic designer in the dot com boom, I moved to Perth and decided to redirect my energies into fine art which was my original love. I have a diploma from Central TAFE where I studied sculpture have completed a few semesters of painting at ECU and Curtin.

I saw your exhibition The Elephant of Eastbury at Kidogo Gallery in Fremantle earlier this year for which you had worked collaboratively with poet, Andrew Gates. You also produced a lovely publication of the same name with the fullpoem text and 10 colour images. How did this collaboration come about? 
The poet, Andrew Gates of Connecticut in the US was accepted by Littlefox Press to publish his work. The publisher, Christine Matthieu of Littlefox Press in Melbourne, then approached me to do the project as a commission. I had done illustration work for them formerly, and they knew of my passion for fine art based upon texts or stories. Christine then connected me with the poet in the US.

The Elephant of Eastbury: All and Nothing, Laura Mitchell.
Acrylic on canvas. Image courtesy of the artist.

I'm very interested in the combination of poetry with visual imagery, it can be quite a hard thing to balance two peoples versions of a narrative and I think Elephant does this very successfully. Were there any moments when you didn't agree with each other on how something should be interpreted? Were you in conversation together throughout the creative process, or did one of you create work for the other to respond to?

The poet and the editor had already finalised the poem, so I didn't have any influence on the text. There was quite a bit of collaboration regarding the images, however. I first started working on the images from the concept of “childhood memories” - the elephant being a symbol for memory – and the result was a series of still lifes with an elephant. The publisher then felt that there needed to be at least one image more concretely related to the text “the elephant wandering between the ears”which spurred the series of tiny elephants within an abstract background with the outline of an ear. These I was very pleased with. The other was a landscape with elephant and outline of a person's head, which I felt was too “graphic” and a bit forced, but it satisfied the gap the publisher was feeling between the words and the images. Later, I was looking for more inspiration and asked the poet if there was anything more behind the poem, and he told me a very inspiring story (based on reality) of a young child going next door to find his grandmother lying motionless, beside her a tiny bejewelled elephant which was no longer there when he returned having fetched his mother. This then inspired my exploration of death as a journey: the map, airplane, trunk, and glasses left on open book images were a result of this.

Who are some of your creative influences?

I love Kara Walker, with her incredibly powerful “storybook” cut-out images based on the politics and personal history of women and minorities. I also enjoy the work of Sally Smart and wonder how much influence she took from Walker. Another favourite is LA based “low brow” artist Camille Rose Garcia with her abstract backgrounds and pop culture inspired foreground figures, one series of which supported endangered species. My mentor during the Elephant project was Melbourne artist now relocated to Perth Jo Darvall, whose extremely meticulous approach to colour and her extremely fine hewn approach to mark making is inspiring.

The Elephant of Eastbury: Origins of Meaning, Laura Mitchell
Acrylic and mixed media on canvas. Image courtesy of the artist.

You are also a professional musician, what do you play? And does playing music inform your visual work, and visa versa or are they very separate processes? 
I play violin mandolin and sing a bit, but have enlisted 2 great singers to help me with the latter! Our group is called TrioAlegra & the Velvettes and consists of violin, mandolin, accordion, double bass, percussion and of course 3 part vocal harmonies. I have also done session work for various musicians. I used to have a second band on the go but that got canned when my second child came along! More time for that later. My music I would say is a parallel but separate process. For instance the idea of “consonance vs dissonance” in music I can relate directly to visual elements such as line, texture, colour. Harmony and melody and counterpoint I relate to lines and compositional elements, and “timbre” in music I relate to texture in visual art. Pitch I suppose for me could be related to tonality (light & dark) or level of saturation. So in this elemental or conceptual way each process informs the other, but in terms of “representing” aural phenomena directly, no I have attempted that and found it too difficult! I do however love Kandinsky who I believe sometimes worked in that fashion.

Do you listen to anything when you are painting? If so, what?

I frequently listen to nothing but to the sounds around my studio. John Cage was one of the innovators in the concept of simple random sounds, or even silence itself, as music. Because music for me is often “work” I cherish silence. Sometimes I feel obligated to interrupt my art practice to work on music which can be a dangerous form of procrastination – not dedicating enough focus to either the art or the music but getting caught dabbling in both! However having said that I love Bach, Dub, drum and bass, world music, tom waits, old-time/bluegrass, Balkan brass bands... jazz jazz and more jazz and sometimes put my ipod on random while working with all of this rotating.

You have lived in quite a few different places around the world but you are now based in Perth. Have these changes in place had a great influence on you creatively? And what do you like about where you live now?

I have displaced myself with migration many times in my life and have thrived on the challenge of absorbing and attempting to assimilate into a new culture or place and the different energy and stimulation each new place has brought me. However I am extremely grateful to be based in Australia, WA in particular as the fantastic quality and style of life has afforded me the option to pursue fine art and music as an independent agent. In the US I lacked confidence of leaving the “job” as health care is exorbitant without an employer, there are no viable free health care options there. When I first moved to Perth I didn't find it particularly creatively stimulating in and of itself, but I found the space, not just in the landscape but in

The Elephant of Eastbury: Edge of an Ear,
Clockwise from Top Left: Bone, Earth, Blood & Water
Laura Mitchell. Acrylic and mixed media on canvas.
Image courtesy of the artist.

What's coming up for the rest of 2011 and into 2012?
The Elephant of Eastbury Book will tour to the US in late 2012 to be presented in 29 Main St. Gallery at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond VA, and on May 11, 2012 I will be participating in a group exhibition on the concept of “Time” at the Moores Building in Fremantle. My works will be developed through a collaboration with another poet, William Yeoman (also Arts Writer/Books Editor for The West). Following the theme of time, he has written 12 poems following the concept of the “Horologos” - a set of 12 poems based on each hour of the day (and night), each with a connection also to a season.

Where can people find out more about your artwork and music? 
Thanks so much, Claire. My artwork can be viewed on my website, more recent works can be seen via email or studio visit, simply contact me, details below. To hear about concerts and exhibitions please go to the contact section of my website and sign your email in through the form and I will send notices.
+61 435 054 122 | +61 08 9336 2646

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

In the Studio

Mr. Tez in progress
Mr. Tez in progress

A beast in progress
Stuff happening on the work table

Out the window at the Midland studio
Looking out of the window at the Midland studio

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Beast for Thee

I'm going to be part of an upcoming exhibition at The Oats Factory called Beast for Thee during October.

Maria Hildrick, Stereotypy 2 (Sunbear), 2011. Mixed media on canvas.

Beast for Thee
8 October - 30 October
The Oats Factory

Animals can equally inspire our love and our fear. They act as our companions, protectors, labourers and provide us with sport. We have caged them, cooked them and we have worshipped them. We associate some human behaviours with the animal, often behaviours we would prefer to see as 'other' than human... and some behaviours that we long to allow in ourselves forgetting that we are part of that same 'kingdom'.

Beast for Thee features work by four artists currently based in Western Australia, Claire Bushby, Claire Canham, Maria Hildrick and William Wernham. The artists came together to explore this many layered relationship between humans and animals, from their own individual viewpoints and through a variety of artistic mediums including painting, drawing, collage and small scale 3d works.

Stay tuned for more about this show...

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Paper Chain Update

There is not one, but two new collages on the Paper Chain!

Melanie Diss to Ali Drake, Chain 4.

Leah Baker to Heather Blacklock, Chain 10

To see more images visit: