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Portfolio / Pictura Metaphysica

Still-Life / Tromp l’ oeil

I am interested in 17th and 18th cen still life (nature –morte) and the philosophical ‘vanitas’ or ‘memento mori’ painting in which seemingly ordinary material objects in the visible world can represent invisible things or abstract ideas either symbolically or metaphorically-a kind of metaphysics. Sometimes this is allied to the use of trompe l’ oeil with its playful game of spatial illusions using small objects, playing cards, feathers, and images as objects, like drawings and engravings, usually rendered in relief with subtle shadows against an almost flat surface in a shallow space.

These kind of paintings reveal a ‘self awareness’ of the conceptual nature of ‘reality’ perceived through images and pictorial illusions.

In my work I am interested in evoking a sense of nostalgia for ephemeral moments, lost or destroyed worlds regained through the act of re-creation and re-construction of broken fragments. I am fascinated by the way collage, with its elements of chance and accident, re-orders the fractured elements of time and space in an intuitive, creative process of reconstruction and reinvention.

The accretion and obliteration of layers of paint creates a patina of human marks and gestures over time by default or deliberate intervention that ‘implode’ or encapsulate time like an archeological site. I am interested in the relationships, contrasts and correspondences that emerge from this process both by accident and design.

In both the materials and the visual elements I want to evoke the processes of growth and decay, desire and mutability and suggest the possibility of transformation. The process of painting itself is like the alchemical search for the philosophers stone to turn base metals into gold and achieve immortality. (Ars longa vita brevis)

Occasionally I use words as arcane ciphers in the form cryptic handwritten scrawls, stenciled words or transferred text. The Flemish or French words,  ‘Verboden aan te plakken, defense d’afficher or defense de deposer des ordures’ ( ‘it is forbidden to attach signs or leave rubbish’ ) are often seen on walls around the city.  I like the ironic play on the trompe l’oeil illusion of collage and evocation of urban surfaces covered in layers of over-painted graffiti and torn posters and want to reference this within the context of picture frame and provoke the viewer into considering the ways in which public and private spaces of personal liberty of thought and expressions are negotiated.

I am not interested creating paintings that can be read too literally like road signs but which remain mysterious and intriguing. Surreal incongruous juxtapositions and the arrangement of seemingly disparate things resonate with our psyche and are significant without necessarily having specific rational meanings. I aim at a precision of feeling based on intuition and want to raise the worthless, ephemeral and transient detritus that accumulate in the corners of our minds to the status of surreal poetry.

My paintings usually have an abstract structure based on the relationships between elemental geometric shapes and forms; circles, squares and triangles and I like to explore and contrast symmetry and asymmetry, positive and negative space, light and dark tones and pure and muted colours as well as the motion of spontaneous, expressive gestures and more contemplative, static areas of painting based on careful direct observation and analysis.

I work mostly in acrylic paint, inks and watercolours on various types of handmade paper or card, sometimes I use oil on canvas and recently I have been experimenting with egg tempera and Kramer’s historical pigments on wooden boards. I often use gold or copper leaf and a gel medium transfer technique. Occasionally I mix sand or other things with the paint to build up a shallow relief or texture.  The surface is built up in a series of opaque and transparent layers or washes that often partially cover or obliterate the layers beneath.

Alan Mitchell

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