Colin Mitchell is a Surrey-based artist, that you will commonly see while buying your art supplies at the OPUS in Langley. Colin is a classically trained artist who has intuitively brought his own curiosity into each piece creating playful narratives. His solo exhibition 'The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same' is currently on display at the AIFS Online Gallery located at LangleyArts.ca, and at the Aldergrove Kinsmen Community Centre Foyer Gallery' from November 6th to January 6th.
To view Colin's online exhibition click HERE.
To view Colin's exhibition in person please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to book in a time.
The interview below was conducted over email between Colin and Gallery Director Claire Sarfeld, read on to hear more about Colin, his practice, and the thought process behind his artworks. Thank you Colin for taking the time to answer some questions about your work to be shared with the LAC community.
I went to College at UCFV (now UFV) in Abbotsford, then on to the University of Lethbridge last century, and have been continuing to make and show things ever since. Shortly after University, I travelled around Europe, virtually living in Museums. I spent months absorbing all I could from physically experiencing an artwork, which I found teaches so much more than just seeing the same art photographed in books. More recently, I have spent 15 years working at Opus Art Supplies learning everything I can about different art materials, and then using that information in my own work, as well as to teach and help others with their art.
I think so, yes, but perhaps not in the usual sense. I have always had an insatiable appetite for knowledge, and how to do things. Often that means figuring out for myself how things work, and how I can alter it to my own purposes or try to improve it. I tend to be pretty good at finding creative solutions to problems, and figuring out alternate ways of learning and doing. This has helped me to find my own path in art.
I started at UCFV, and had a phenomenal experience there. I had just come from an incredibly draining, intensely academic focus and was pretty burned out. The profs at UCFV at that time were an incredible group, and were exactly what I needed at that moment - they encouraged us to let go and explore. It was a 90-degree turn for me, still highly focused on learning and advancing, but in a totally new direction, which really helped me to flourish and find my way.
Following that, I went to the University of Lethbridge for my BFA. It was quite a change, and I didn't feel much of a connection with the permanent professors there but had quite a few excellent visiting instructors. Luckily, at that point I felt very confident with where I was heading and used the University setting similar to the way an acrobat will use a safety net - it's nice to know it's there, but not relying on it. I treated it more like an independent studio space. Again, I think it was exactly what I needed at that point in my life.
I don't know that it was ever literally expressed out loud, but what I took out of my experiences at school was to trust my instincts, and just go with it - don't be afraid. If something doesn't turn out, it can still be a valuable learning experience; and it's just art... if it's really bad you can destroy it, or work back into it. Since you're the creator, you get to decide when, and if, it's done and whether it ever gets seen by anyone else. As I said, it's just art; it's not like it's life-saving surgery or something - relax and enjoy it, otherwise what's the point?
I'm an incessant reader, and about 10 years ago I discovered Project Gutenberg, which is an organization that makes free digital copies of books that are in the public domain. I decided to work my way through all the canonical literature written throughout history; Dumas, Voltaire, Hugo, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Moliere, Shakespeare, and on and on. The main theme I've absorbed from it all is that the experience of being human doesn't really change. Our surroundings can change, but the basic problems of being human don't; we ultimately live within a small world of a few people and all have similar interactions with one another. Love, fear, friendships, families, petty arguments, jealousies, basic survival needs... this is being human, and it doesn't change significantly depending on the date you're doing it. These things happened in 1620 just as much as they're happening in 2020, and will still happen in 2320 because that's what it's all about. These are the reasons we're alive, and that's what makes it great. I like to try to touch on a pretty deep subject matter with my work, but also keep some lighter, more humorous aspects of life in there, because life encompasses all these aspects too. I see my art as a representation of the world, and of life as experienced by myself.
I definitely hope that people see a narrative, or are able to create a narrative through my work, but I haven't explicitly formed a definitive narrative. I prefer to suggest possibilities and have people fill in the blanks, or create links between different elements of the pieces. I think it's more interesting to hint at things, while also inviting viewers to draw their own inferences from the work and create a dialogue that way.
My preferred order for the works was more just a formal organizational tool so that they looked balanced together as a whole. When I started the series, I was playing with the idea of making all the paintings visually join together to create a larger piece while still existing as individual artworks in their own right. I am working on the concept of the individual works being smaller parts of a greater work; it's hard to put into words... if you picture how the individual works are made up of small pieces of collage; then when they are displayed, I imagined treating the paintings themselves as larger pieces of collage and putting them together again to make another, more monumental piece. I also wanted it to be variable, so that going forward, every time they're displayed the shape can change; I picture it flowing across walls, around corners and changing with every different environment they may possibly be in. I don't think I was incredibly successful in this first attempt, but it showed promise, and I learned from it so I will try it again.
A lot of it is, again, instinctive. Some things just jump out at me as interesting elements that I will want to use at some point; many items have been saved since my childhood. I tend to be drawn to images and things which suggest tension, or that will have multiple possible readings when taken out of their original contexts; and objects which carry an element of age within them.
The jigsaw puzzles, for example, were found in a grocery store in Hungary, and I immediately knew I needed them for collage. They just had too many Art Historical references already embedded in them for me to ignore; from the literal fact that they're famous Impressionist paintings, to the more subtle idea of them being Duchampian readymades and the sarcastic whimsy of framing jigsaw puzzles to put on your walls - I bought one of each design. Other pieces of collage are just scraps of old newspapers with jokes on them that made me laugh, but even these take on an Art Historical air when you know about Picasso and Braque, or Art Brut, or Rauschenberg.
I like how one person might look at an object like the glow-in-the-dark stars and just see a tacky decoration for a child's room, while someone else might see them as being symbolic of the stars; how they can remind one that even in a bright blue sky the stars are always there, we just can't see them. It reminds us that we're tiny beings on a speck of rock, hurtling through space around one of those tacky glowing things. They can become grandiose metaphors for human frailty; it all depends on the viewers perspective
Absolutely! I have always thought sculpturally; I tend to use a lot of three-dimensional objects as collage in my paintings, and I have always considered the sides of a canvas/surface when painting. Whether they're painted or raw, it's always a conscious decision on my part. I like to use all the available space of a surface, and utilize as many viewpoints as possible; that way a viewer can approach from any angle and I'm giving them something to look at, and giving a hint of how to approach my work before they're actually standing in front of it. If a painting has all sorts of detail on the sides of it, it's a hint that there's probably even more on the face, and it's preparing the viewer to look closely at all the little parts of the painting.
I started experimenting with different ways of using the sides in this series, and one painting in particular (Cannibal Cafe...) I approached in quite a new way. I painted the sides and top as if the viewer were standing in that spot, 90 degrees from the face of the painting, and showing what they would see from that perspective. The edges can be seen as a cross-section of the face of the painting, showing the insides and roofs of the buildings which one sees on the front surface.
I see my work as that platform. Art, for me, is a dialogue with all other artists who have come before me and will follow after. I see Art History as a conversation carried on throughout time via paintings, sculptures, photographs, etc... This is why it's important for me to know Art History; so I can join in the discussion in a relevant manner.
The LAC would like to thank Colin again for his time and the hard work he put into creating the 'The More Thing's Change, The More They Stay The Same' exhibition. Colin is an artist who is always on the LAC's radar, Colin is a staple in our on-going group exhibitions and we are always interested to see what will come next. If you haven't yet popped over to view Colin's solo exhibition click HERE to see his show!