Vertigo by Jane Mitchell

Vertigo, Oil on board, 2007

Vertigo

Jane Mitchell

13 February to 04 March 2007

“In my work I continue to explore divisions between civilization and the landscape. This separation results in a kind of detachment, as we create for ourselves an impression of being sheltered from the forces of nature. Many of our pursuits here are focused on multi-national industries and unadulterated materialism; nature has regressed into the background of life.”
 
For many years, wherever Auckland artist Jane Mitchell has travelled, she has photographed old doorways, derelict buildings and precarious structures - worn, neglected and discolored pieces of built form which clearly show the marks of time. These photographic images are translated into her works where they testify to the presence of mankind, standing as monuments against veiled, faded renderings of the natural landscape.
 
A variety of man-made structures feature in Mitchell's paintings - fences, power-lines, roads and ropes cut through the landscape like fault lines, breaking the smooth horizontal planes of the land - asserting man's dominance over a once natural environment. Taking this interest even into her choice of substrate, the artist’s works often employ panelled insets, painted with veiled edges and layering, sometimes rising to gouged, heavy surfaces, adding to the three-dimensional nature of the composition.
 
Mitchell’s structures speak of the social climate of a place - perhaps once thriving havens of business and productivity, the areas she depicts are no longer in use and sit decaying, swallowed up and neglected. Surfaces appear timeworn, their neutral palette dispersed throughout with vivid blues, reds and greens developing a patina effect that reflects the push-pull of nature versus mankind – natural forces oxidise and wear down surfaces while humans attempt (inevitably failing) to reclaim them. There is a disquieting apprehension about what went on behind the doors, anonymous walls and dark hidden passageways of Mitchell's structures; a sensation of recognising our own mortality as we recognise the long march of the passage of time that will ultimately devour us all.
 
The precarious position of humanity in the face of nature is most clear in Mitchell’s use of figures. The minutely detailed faces and graceful bearing of her human forms render them feathery wraiths, too insubstantial to wield any power against the forces which sweep across their environment. As ephemeral ghost-like forms they too remind us of the transience of life. Mitchell has recently sought to enclose and shield her figures in the interiors that she paints – they stand in hallways, walk toward corners and inhabit worlds behind doors that are hidden from our view – yet just outside the frame that we can see, a wider world is waiting to engulf them. In the grace but relative insignificance of the form against the power of the world and of time, Mitchell’s works create a sense of beauty inextricably bound up with a sense of tragedy and melancholy.

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