Review

Sam Mitchell’s First is Last, Last is First (and a little on the New Grads Show)

Oh my how time flies, a belated Happy New Year to you all!  Did you all have a fun and relaxing holiday?  I hope 2014 is everything you wish it to be 🙂

It has been quite a while since I last posted – all the usual Christmas and New Year’s madness – and there were also a few distractions, such as Auckland’s epic sunny weather and Sherlock season 3 (holy shizz!)  But I’m back, and now that the galleries have reopened, it’s time to get perusing again.

The first offering that I checked out for 2014 was First is Last, Last is First by Sam Mitchell at Corban Estate Arts Centre, Henderson, and curated by Kara Wallace. Wandering into this exhibition, Mitchell’s larger than life portraits give the impression of being in a candy coloured tattoo parlour 😛  These sleek glossy works are created with acrylic on Perspex sheets and are actually painted in reverse – the final flourishes are daubed first, hence the title.  Each vibrant portrait hosts a legion of imagery adopted from comics, cartoons, fairy tales and magazines.  These icons of pop culture are etched upon the faces of the portraits, forming a collector’s dream if you will.

A few snaps of Sam Mitchell’s exhibition were taken by artsdiary:

http://www.artsdiary.co.nz/bt48/1317/1.html

You can find more information on Sam Mitchell below:

http://melanierogergallery.com/stockroom/sam-mitchell/

The most instantly recognisable portrait is of a young, Jackson Five era Michael Jackson, replete with an impressive afro that is filled with a design reminiscent of stylised Japanese waves.  Another is of a modelesque blue-skinned blonde (sort of a cross between Ursula Andress and Mystique from X-Men) with an identical design applied to her golden locks.  The final portrait is a large skull loaded with images of death and horror, yet curiously juxtaposed with beautiful flowers.  They all rest against a colourful geometric background that propel the heads forward in space, as if they are buoyant and disconnected, waiting to be addressed.

Many of the characters inked upon these works are identifiable: Skeletor from He-Man, Richie Rich, Bambi, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a unicorn, Sleeping Beauty, Goldilocks, Dracula, Vishnu, St George and the Dragon, the list goes on.  But beneath this bright pop veneer and taste for nostalgia, Mitchell has constructed spaces to examine deeper political, social and gender concerns. 

For instance, Mitchell makes reference to current affairs by inscribing the words ‘E.U. Bailout’ and ‘Snowden Leaks’ within the portrait of Michael Jackson.  The images that adorn the pop star can be seen as indexes of his inner thoughts, or how people perceive him.  Bambi could allude to his childlike naiveté, the literal deer caught in the headlights of fame; Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde could represent his ever changing appearance, or the battle between private and public selves.

Similarly, the blue-skinned woman displays the words ‘Once Upon a Time’ and ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’, along with images of damsels in distress and a figure who I think is a Golden Age Wonder Woman.  These illustrate the various influential sources that shape women’s innermost desires, their expectations of their societal roles, as well as providing points of difference.  This is achieved with a sense of irreverence and whimsy, and Mitchell essentially twists portraiture on its head: rather than solely showing the symbols of wealth, power and status, she instead reveals things that we perhaps don’t want people to see.

You can easily spend half an hour staring at a work, looking at each image and searching the recesses of your mind for the original source – kind of like combing through designs at a tattoo parlour.  There is level of transference with Mitchell’s works: she lays out clues, and asks the viewer to complete the work with our own narratives and interpretations of the images lain before them.

Sam Mitchell will be giving an artist talk on Saturday 15th February at 11am, be sure not to miss it!

Though this post is mainly about Sam Mitchell’s exhibition, I couldn’t help but pop into the other rooms and look at works by the latest graduates.  Curated again by Ms. Wallace, Auckland’s various art schools are well represented and the exhibition showcases the varying media used.

The standout work from this exhibition would be Paula Schaafhausen’s Tuvalu (2013).   It features eight statues of the Polynesian god Tagaloa, and each are hand moulded from coconut oil and koko (pure cocoa).  You will smell this work before you see it, and the fact that they look like white and dark chocolate is very appealing 🙂  Over the six week duration of the exhibition, they will gradually melt into oblivion, affected by time and temperature.  Their melting represents the disappearing islands of Tuvalu due to rising sea levels.  The alluring scent of coconut and cocoa will linger in the air, and along with a mass of marbled liquid, will be all that remains of this installation.

I liked the ephemeral nature of this work, and found Schaafhausen’s message to be effectively conveyed.  I have visited the work on two separate occasions, and already found myself mourning their disintegration.  Every viewer’s experience of this work will be different – they may be indeterminate blobs by the time you visit them, and you would have missed the intricately formed Tagaloas in their full glory.  It’s also quite a funny work, as the first to melt is a certain part of the human anatomy 😛

The first link is Tuvalu on the evening of the exhibition opening, the second the day after:

http://www.artsdiary.co.nz/bt48/1318/13.html

http://www.artsdiary.co.nz/bt48/1318/14.html

There are many intriguing works in the New Grads Show, do check it out 😀

First is Last, Last is First and the New Grads Show is on at Corban Estate Arts Centre, Henderson until Sunday 2nd March 2014. There will be a Kids Art Workshop relating to the New Grads Show on Saturday 22nd February, 11am.

Enjoy!

M.

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One thought on “Sam Mitchell’s First is Last, Last is First (and a little on the New Grads Show)

  1. Pingback: One of Us Cannot Be Wrong by Sam Mitchell | Raven about Art

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