Monday, July 14, 2008

Jeffry Mitchell talks with Denise Patry Leidy

Last Sunday at the Portland Art Museum, Denise Patry Leidy, Curator of Chinese Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, spoke on perfection and form in Asian art. As she explained, it's a huge topic covering a vast part of art history both in time and space.

After her talk, she and Jeffry Mitchell presented an equally interesting one-on-one presentation of Mitchell's three contributions to the museum's Contemporary Northwest Art Awards exhibit. Mitchell and Leidy complement each other because Mitchell has an abiding interest in Asian art. He often draws on images and concepts with strong Asian influences. I still have difficulty with some of Mitchell's work. I disparaged it in a previous blog. I don't connect with what I read as his storybook imagery. However, two of the three Mitchell pieces in this exhibit interest me.

Of the three pieces Mitchell has in the show, "Sphinx" has been described by critics almost to the exclusion of the other two pieces, "From a Muddy Pond: Like an Elephant in a (Plexi) Box" and the black-on-black painting, "Black Star". "Sphinx" shares some of the same imagery that I criticized when Mitchell showed at Pulliam Deffenbaugh. I prefer "From a Muddy Pond" and the black-on-black painting — they're atypical for Mitchell. There's an aspect of "From a Muddy Pond" that I can relate to. Mitchell created a sort of wallpaper group from lithograph prints on transparent paper. Because the paper is transparent, he can achieve the reflection of a plane symmetry or wallpaper group by flipping the image over.

In the black-on-black painting Mitchell uses a highly geometric process to develop a remarkable image. In the center of the painting is a pentagon. Toward the edges are five circles. Concentric pentagonal shapes radiate from the center and morph into concentric circles radiating from the five outer shapes. This is all accomplished with black drawn on black oil paint. The entire painting is meant to be the image his "Sphinx" (self-portrait) contemplates from across the room, and therefore seems to me to be the real focus of his exhibit, not the "Sphinx".

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