Geoff Mitchell has a great deal to express regarding the form abstraction can take in his paintings, and he is quite prepared to underline just what he is and is not trying to accomplish with his work. This is evidenced in a perfect intersection with the response of individuals who view his work. There are a variety of views, ranging from delighted curiosity to probing questions involving the process and techniques they observe. There is debate about how to categorize the work and occasionally even outright head shaking in disapproval. The artist finds these responses to be in perfect alignment with his understanding of the work he is creating, and an almost certain inevitability to them.
He suspects the reason for the variety of response lies in the probability that different people have different tolerances for ambiguity. More specifically, he is referring to the sort of ambiguity that involves the abstraction of narrative. Viewing his work, with distinct fields of color and pattern, marks of pure color and line, raised and smooth texture, photographs and symbols, one may find that ambiguity is less present in the individual components and visual presentation of the painting than in the overall effect of the work. Mitchell explains that abstract art is like instrumental music. He likens precise concepts to the lyrics in a song, and he consciously does not impose lyrics upon his viewer. Considering pure abstraction to be difficult at best to achieve, he strives towards relationships in his work that are an unlikely pairing, yet visually synchronize. Both artist and viewer are free to move around, and are not tied down with fixed concepts. He is trying to reflect an attitude, working purely visually, a perspective that is fractured, ambiguous and disjointed.
The conclusion that pure abstraction is nearly impossible means inviting the public to have a say, and in turn taking responsibility for their possible alienation. Mitchell finds that the viewer would either create meaning subjectively, or the confusion will cause them to let go. He takes delight in achieving this result, reaching a point that will be met by some as intentionally confusing. Some may view him as a cajoler who breaks up stories. However, viewed another way, he is offering a particular liberty to the public as he invites them to have a say and be involved in the work.
Any way people take his work; the result is a product of the artist’s feeling that excess orientation towards meaning in the realm of visual art is alienating for the public. As he explains, “No one wants to be badgered, especially by artists that are pushing an agenda.” Mitchell firmly commits himself to his foremost objective that is to provide some level of entertainment to his viewer; and more specifically visual entertainment.
At the same time, he doesn’t think meaning can be escaped even with pure abstraction, considering non-conceptual work to be a physical impossibility. For any trigger of the visual sense, any pleasure of the eye, will almost certainly elicit a gesture of the mind that will follow in a directly proportional, yet somewhat unmanageable way.
He does face retaliation at times, possibly due to the seemingly intentional practice of being confusing. He does not take responsibility for the viewer’s decisions, feeling that every meaning that could possibly be made is already done, carried about in the minds and lives of the viewers, meaning that is ever-present yet pulled from nowhere. Mitchell pulls from his hat a quote from Charlie Chaplin that answers this question of artist and meaning quite neatly, “Painters are a bore because most of them would have you believe they are philosophers more than painters.”
Curiously, Mitchell noticed that the more craftsmanship he introduced into his work, the more certain individuals would challenge its eminence as art. This is a perfect departure into the second subject that must be explored regarding his paintings. Leaving aside the question of meaning we must discuss the considerable response many viewers have regarding the methods behind the finished paintings. The layering, techniques, juxtapositions, and finishes inspire viewers to ask questions about the processes he used to achieve such results. This is in perfect tandem with an area of major import for him. Starting in 2004, he decided that what was missing in the accomplishment of his painterly objective could be driven home with craft, and Mitchell has worked hard from that point forward to develop an aesthetic delivery that involved it.
Photo transfer is a significant feature in the work, and while he often begins with sorting through photographs, he doesn’t require them for a beginning in his compositions. He scrutinizes them for action, and any stimulated response that may enjoin with his own memories. He seeks images that are one-of-a-kind selections from life. These images contain a particular seed of action that relates to the thorough process that he will take them through when folding them into an artwork. Having bled his personal ancestral photos dry a long time ago, he hunts through antique shops and flea markets on his travels, seeking one-off images. Frequently, and entirely by chance, he is drawn to images of children, possibly because he is looking for action, the suggestion of a story, and children are more likely than not to be captured in the midst of some characteristic movement. Photographs like the ones he seeks are strange, out of context, a momentary glimpse of something distinct and real yet never fully forthcoming as to what actually occurred when they were captured. The photo transfer effect has been compared to Robert Rauschenberg, however, he does not use the same techniques in his paintings. He considers his approach to image making more akin to David Salle or Canadian artist Thrush Holmes.
He employs a number of favored techniques in the development of his compositions, keeping close to the toolkits of craftsmanship, ambiguity and action. He starts with a field of color, often orange or ochre for its warmth and luminosity. He then introduces layer upon layer of paint, shapes and images to develop the history of his disjointed and stimulated storylines. He often makes use of Photoshop to explore the composition during development, making adjustments and mobilizing components while seeking the right relationships. This gives him the option of fine-tuning his placements before actualizing the painting. Tiling multiple panels is another tool he may use, and while a series of panels may already be tied in a relationship together in a single painting’s form, he can happily move the tiles as necessary to create the overall effect he is after.
In following his obvious concern for craft, Mitchell pays close attention to the textural outcomes his work. The finish and final surface treatment is applied with careful regard to the quality he is after. He is frequently asked about the UV resin he uses, a smooth and glossy surface that is striking; but sporadically may be left out where its substantial smoothing effect would eliminate the textural quality developed in some of his work. Mitchell considers paintings as three-dimensional objects. They include side and angular views, with surfaces that have qualities of reflection, texture and sheen. Feeling that these qualities are too often unattended to by fellow painters, his satin and resin finishes have become an immensely vital part of his completed package.
Through ambiguous scenarios and abstract methodologies, Geoff Mitchell achieves the results he is after. These are self-guided results that speak clearly within him. As well spoken in person as his work is well executed, he wraps the whole neatly within the following words from a recent interview:
In the end each object I make feels like something that has always been there as an invisibility. The possibility that these elements of imagery, paint and collage could come together as one was always there. Through my process I am simply uncovering it and bringing it into the real. After this happens I cannot question it or ask it for answers, because it seems to me it already had the right to exist.