Jane Mitchell’s sense of what is beautiful is unconventional. It is not entirely unexpected, however, as she is an artist who sees beauty everywhere and in everything, but particularly the forms, colours and history of disused or abandoned buildings.
I use the discarded incidental details that lie around decaying and unnoticed. I paint the relationships that I see in the doorways, derelict buildings, and the traces of structures that were once full of life. These relics are emblems of the persistence of the past in the present.
Vortex is concerned in particular with the interaction and connection between various “built” elements such as doorways, windows, walls and hallways, and the ability of these simple elements (with their unique architectural language) to reflect the peculiar traces of wear that communities leave in the wake of de-occupation. In conjunction with the obvious history of habitation is the sense of lingering spirits in the uninhabited rooms long after all the people have left. It is the peculiar way humans have occupied a building and the traces of that occupation left behind which tells another story to an observant outsider such as Mitchell.
The long empty passageways leading to unknown doorways within these structures all declare a private intimacy. The door is both powerful and mysterious representing a crossing or a threshold into the unknown. Doors allude to the human element of the urban reality in which we live. Behind the doors, underneath the flaking paint on whitewashed walls are many buried secrets, and memories colored by nostalgia.
With her studio in a lovely old heritage building in Queen Street, Mitchell is reminded daily of the beauty and strength of our past (both architecturally and historically) constantly under threat of “modernization”. She speaks with a sense of excitement, tinged with melancholy, “As I look out from my…studio at the 'remaking' of Queen Street I am nostalgic. I miss the Mezze Bar on the corner, the plaster facades, the history and the character now replaced by endless boxed apartments, polished sushi bars and garish convenience stores.”
Jane views the loss of history and abandonment as a paradox. In one sense she laments the eradication or disuse of many old and established buildings, but she is also moved and motivated by the beauty of existing interiors left inactive; languishing from neglect and unraveling in the wake of successive “communities” having abandoned them. She is fascinated by the physical traces of many layers of “human decisions”, both definitive and inadvertent, left on floors, walls, doors and windows. The layers of multi coloured paint exposed, dusty old furniture, the rubbings of human contact and incidental ephemera from decades of habitation.
The works can also be read symbolically. Particular elements like the checkered floor reminds us that, like a game of chess, our lives are often at the mercy of circumstances and actions beyond our control. Light bulbs and keys feature prominently in the work and are emblematic of many things including both enlightenment and its opposite the darkness of ignorance. More broadly these aspects and the buildings which inspire Mitchell represent collective memories, the sum of personal experience and the passing of time. This is a particularly relevant and poignant concept for Mitchell who has considered at length the impact of time on the built environment of Chernobyl in the wake of the1986 disaster, and the many buildings subsequently left to ruin.
Closer to home, Mitchell has also drawn inspiration for Vortex from the old Patea freezing works, which recently burnt down enclosing the town in a veil of asbestos contamination. Mitchell’s family property bordered the freezing works and both as child and adult she explored and ultimately photographed the many interiors in depth. She was struck by the singular and often ignored beauty produced as nature continued to impact on the various interiors long after abandonment. Importantly (and paradoxically), in these works we glimpse the impact of man on nature, but ultimately it is nature that controls us and reminds us of our mortality.
In spite of what interests Mitchell in terms of content, as viewers it is the way she treats the formal aspects of painting which connects us to the works emotionally. She is a master of the flat, compact surface, the subtleties of composition and the sensual layering and modulation of paint and colour. Her delicate and ethereal surfaces belie the complex process and layering required to impart a sense of time hovering between past, present and imaginary environments. It is as if a stream of imagery and situations has mixed with time and process, moving and shifting in our consciousness, not quite settling, but universally relevant, rich and beautiful.
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