Aaron Mitchell at Sohn’s Gallery, reviewed

Aaron Mitchell, "2011"


AA’s note – this is a review submitted by Magnus Johnstone

At first glance the oil paintings at The Sohn’s Gallery at The Rock & Art Shop in Bangor look like Photoshop images. Aaron Mitchell’s painted portraits clearly use photographs, but not in the obsessive manner of the Photorealists painters of the early 70’s. His paintings are more like the 21st century incarnation of the movement, called Hyperrealism, which uses photographic images as a starting point on which to build a composition. Hyperrealism, although photographic in essence, often entails an elaboration or improvisation of the subject in order to suggest a narrative or mood.

“I do use photos as references for my paintings but I purposely make the effort to work beyond the reference, for example incorporating collage or abstract elements into the painting. I also use a really awful point and shoot camera to take the reference, which prevents the photo from being a presentable piece of art.” he says. None of them are commisioned portraits either. Initially Mr. Mitchell was inspired to pursue portraits by the paintings of Chuck Close. “I appreciate the fact that Close painted close friends, relative unknowns to the general public (at least at the time of painting). In this way the actual person becomes secondary to the painting as a piece of art. Its not just a representation of someone for the sake of reproduction. I choose to leave my subjects anonymous for this exact same reason, I prefer to define my figures in the context of the painting, not in relation to who they are in real life.”

Mr. Mitchell, a recent illustration major graduate of New Hampshire Institute of Art in Manchester, NH, started this series of portraits, exhibiting at The Sohns Gallery through December, in January. Digital art was his main focus until he started these paintings, but a painting class in college turned him onto the techniques of John Singer Sargent. None of them are commissioned portraits, so there is no obligation to flatter the sitter, which enables him to take them in any direction he wants. ” Being an illustrator and a graphic designer I do take commissions where I hand over my artistic time and energy to the ideas of other people. I have yet to do that with my painting, its still the one medium where I am in complete control working towards my own goal. I am not opposed to the idea of doing painting commissions, but I would be much more inclined to do it if I remained in that position of control. In this way I would prefer to be more like Gustav Klimt than John Singer Sargent. Sargent’s portrait’s are straight forward and were created to appease the desires of his patrons. Klimt was commissioned to create a portrait as he saw fit. That’s the kind of working relationship I would ask for if I were to start taking portrait commissions.” says Mr. Mitchell.

It’s not that he is making excuses for not caring whether anybody, or his sitters like their portraits. The paintings in this show demonstrate that Mr. Mitchell has the ability to paint a sympathetic or even flattering portrait. And the paintings of his master John Singer Sargent Sargent exemplify the possibilities that lie in portraiture. A poem by Osbert Sitwell says that all an artist need do to be great is portray the inhabitants of obscure seaside or rustic towns, an aesthetic also taken to heart by by Winslow Homer when he moved to Prout’s Neck at the age of 47. “I was born in Bangor and spent most of my childhood in Belfast, ME. I went to college at the New Hampshire Institute of Art in Manchester, NH.” Says Mr. Mitchell. “After graduating I moved back to Maine and ended up in Portland where I currently live. A lot of my family still lives in Bangor and since I was born there I thought it was appropriate that I should have my first major show there, as a starting point to launch what will hopefully be a satisfying career.”

Michell’s website is at www.mindofmitchell.com, his email is aaronmitchellart@gmail.  The gallery’s website is www.sohnsgallery.com and is located on Central St. in Bangor.

Submitted by Magnus Johnstone www.magnusjohnstone.com/