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Portfolio / Memory & Metaphor

In constructing our personal and collective histories and identities from fragmentary surviving documentary images like photographs, the recent past is as remote as antiquity. Damaged, incomplete or faded photographic images are like fragments of pottery or broken statues, poignant reminders of the ephemeral and impermanent nature of our existence.

“Things in their true nature and illusions are of the same basic substance” Thich Nhat Hanh. (Transformation and Healing: Sutra on the four establishments of mindfulness)

Photography by mechanically recording a moment in time gives a sense of objective truth or realism to images. The subjective aspects in the process of selecting, framing and capturing subjects and the fleeting effects of light and shadows in spontaneous moments or carefully posed situations create distortions which are infinite especially with the additional digital manipulation of images. Enlarging or photocopying images has the effect of disintegrating the illusion of forms and space into pixels or spots of ink that appear like strange patterns or arcane codes on the surface of the paper.

Painting is the direct human mark expressed through the tactile, visceral and elemental nature of the media. It is not limited by the actual appearance of objective reality. It brings the potential awareness of its own long history to each new gesture. The processes out of which the painted image is built in an accumulative way over time grow the work until the colours and dabs of light and dark paint create a recognisable pattern in the eye and mind of the viewer that seem ‘right’.

In my work I am interested in the dichotomy between these ways of seeing and making pictures of ‘reality’ around which we construct our personal histories and identities and hope to engage the viewer in a dialogue about the complex nature of perception within the context of the work.

By fusing both the photographic and painterly processes into a single work, a painting of a photograph as a flat still life object in the shallow surface, within the tradition of trompe l' oeil illusion the viewer is confronted with a conundrum. The painting is an illusion but so also is the photograph. We see an image inside an image, an illusion of an illusion.

The alchemical nature of paint itself is the only present reality and perhaps the actual subject of the work. The underlying geometric structures, balance, proportion and composition, abstract patterns of light, shadow and colour, and the rhythm of gestures and marks, like the pixels of the computer, the only elements of visual reality which the illusion reverts to on closer inspection.

Many of the paintings are ‘composites’ and have to be made up from their separate parts. In addition to this they may retain the geometric scaling up grid used as the drawn scaffolding onto which the image has been built with paint. These frames inside frames make one more acutely aware of the nature of pictorial space and conventions and the way the image has been constructed.

In my work the painted image becomes a complex metaphor for ideas and feelings about identity and history, time and transience, desire and loss, recollection and reconstruction and the relationship between the photographic and painted illusions and realities.

Alan Mitchell.

Metamorphoses Paintings & Drawings. All work featured in this portfolio is created by and © Alan Mitchell 2009. Website created by Op45.