Sam Mitchell – Desires Postponed

I could not contain my excitement when I saw this exhibition advertised at the Melanie Roger Gallery in Herne Bay.  Why?  It brings together some of my favourite things: art and the Classic Hollywood era.

Artist Sam Mitchell often utilises various mediums, and here she applies her unmistakable style to inky blue watercolours on paper displayed in a tight grid, and slick Perspex domes which she has painted on the inside, and thus in reverse.  As the title proffers, Desires Postponed is an exploration of hindered dreams and forgotten endeavours.  Filtered through Mitchell’s prolific knowledge of pop culture and imagery, it features tragic figures from history – some more recent, some only recently rediscovered.

Embodying this theme and providing inspiration is Hedy Lamarr, an Austrian-born Hollywood actress and inventor.  During World War II, Lamarr and composer George Antheil created frequency-hopping spread-spectrum technology, where the signals for radio controlled torpedoes would hop from frequency to frequency, rendering them difficult to jam.  Patented in 1942, it was never implemented and forgotten, until 1962 when the US Navy utilised the design during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Lamarr and Antheil’s invention laid the groundwork for our modern Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and other communication technology.

It is only in the last few decades that Lamarr’s achievements as an inventor have received recognition, and her face (in her own words, a mask she cannot remove, a curse) populates this exhibition.  I could spot at least two of the watercolour portraits that resembled iconic images of her.  In the Perspex dome work Cuban Missile Crisis (2016), Lamarr’s face is central with gilded seigaiha (Japanese wave design) hair and hollow eyes, as she floats almost deity-like.  Along the edge of the dome, runs a row of missiles which appear to be aimed at Lamarr.  This image could well be a commentary on the corruption of intentions and inventions, during the Cold War and in our current global situation.  The threat and consequence of nuclear arms is also evident in Shattered Dreams, where the word ‘Chernobyl’ is blazoned on the left side next to what appears to be a child and a melting ice cream.

Other forlorn figures with unrealised ambitions include Alexander the Great, who created one of the largest empires spanning from Greece to the top of India, and who died at the age of 32 mid campaign.  Another much more contemporary figure is the legendary musician David Bowie on Keep your ‘lectric eye on me babe (2016) in his Ziggy Stardust persona and drawn from the lyrics of the 1971 song ‘Moonage Daydream’.  One of the rare images in this show not to have hollow eyes – his eyes were so distinctive – the galactic setting suggested in the lyrics of ‘Moonage Daydream’ perfuses the illustrations on the dome, and in fact several of the domes.  Boldly Go is coated in sci-fi references from R2-D2 to Alf to the Vulcan Salute.  Moreover, their globular shape contributes to this theme of deep space, and their installation at varying points on the walls has the appearance of planets in orbit.

There are a dizzying number of faces and an epic array of eyewear amongst the watercolours.  They are all young, and their hollow eyes create a sense of weariness and ambivalence.  Their faces and poses feel familiar, almost frustratingly so.  Along with the budgies, flowers, cassette tapes and what looked like a smiling cow cutting parts of its body off, there are layers upon layers of references to pop culture which could take hours or more to dissect.  Riveting and visually rich, the brightness of such imagery alludes to the optimism and flourishing of technology and pop culture during the mid-20th Century, yet lurking beneath are latent dreams and aspirations which Mitchell has bubbled to the surface.

Please see the Melanie Roger Gallery website and Artsdiary for images:

If you would like to learn more about Hedy Lamarr, I highly recommend this fabulous piece by Anne Helen Petersen.  Petersen did her PhD in celebrity gossip, and writes accessible academic critique on celebrity culture:

All her pieces are excellent and she’s even got a book!

And you can’t talk about Lamarr without mentioning the TV series Agent Carter (such a great show, why, why couldn’t they give us a season 3) as the character Whitney Frost is based upon her.

Sam Mitchell – Desires Postponed is on at the Melanie Roger Gallery, Herne Bay until Saturday 17th September 2016.  Not to be missed 🙂



One of Us Cannot Be Wrong by Sam Mitchell

2014 seems to be an interesting year for Sam Mitchell.  I previously wrote about an exhibition she had at Corban Estate Arts Centre in January, which featured bold larger than life portraits painted in reverse onto transparent Perspex sheets.  Now, nine months later, Mitchell presents One of Us Cannot Be Wrong at Melanie Roger Gallery in Herne Bay that comprises of artworks created during her residency in Invercargill as the William Hodges Fellow.

What demarcates this exhibition from previous ones is her venture into ceramics.  Plates and platters are clothed in detail – it almost seems like an effortlessly natural progression, as her work is highly decorative.  This is especially seen in the re-emergence of the stylised Japanese wave design which she applied to Michael Jackson’s ‘fro in her January show.  She has contrasted this wave design with some lines and circles for added flourish, and the details really pop when seen in person.

You can check out some photos of Mitchell’s ceramics on the Melanie Roger Gallery website:

Though she has changed medium and scale, Mitchell’s artworks are still portraits.  Her plates and platters are exclusively red and blue, and are filled with localised Southern characters expressive of her time in Invercargill.  Some are rather specific, for instance Ernest Rutherford dabbling with atoms and long-time journalist Frederick Walter Gascoyne Miller, whilst others seem more like stereotypes, such as a muscly Young Farmer of the Year and a pert, salacious Miss Invercargill.  To complete the set, she has included some more whimsical pieces, like a cross section of an oyster, a pig’s pork chart, and a bunch of fun skulls.

There is still that great sense of irreverence and wicked humour in Mitchell’s works – everyone’s a bit cheeky or a bit wry, and I particularly like how revelatory her art is.  Her ceramics captures the subtlety of facial expressions or those truthful moments that we don’t always want people to see, with great economy of drawn line (not unlike one of my favourite artists, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec).  The medium and applied detail has a delicacy and intricacy, which is contrasted with her razor wit.  When viewing her ceramics, I couldn’t help but think of the naughty soup bowls in The Birdcage (1996) with late great Robin Williams, Nathan Lane and Gene Hackman.  If you need to refresh your memory watch the video below, and if you haven’t seen the film, do!

What was also captivating about this exhibition was the installation: each work is placed on a wooden chair, like the ones used to fill school halls, and their backs are stamped with the words ‘MEMORIAL HALL’.  Showing a little wear and tear but still sturdy, they definitely added to the playful, retro vibe and made for entertaining viewing and a bit of reminiscing 🙂

One of Us Cannot Be Wrong is on until Saturday 18th October at Melanie Roger Gallery.  Make sure to check it out!

Also for you Wellingtonians, Paula Schaafhausen’s Tagaloas (which were showing at Corbans alongside Mitchell) are currently exhibiting at Enjoy Public Art Gallery on Cuba St.  Do take the opportunity to see the statues/savour their delicious scent.

Please see the link below for more info: