Art Scene – Dean Mitchell
Peaceful, quiet, contemplative, witnessing – all descriptors of Dean Mitchell’s art thoughtfully created in a variety of media. Whether this prolific, powerhouse artist is working in oil, watercolor, or acrylic, the message is the same… sit back, take a look, don’t be in such a rush, see for yourself exactly what this world is offering you on a daily, moment-by-moment basis. Don’t ever mistake the remarkable for being ordinary. Dean Mitchell is also a dichotomy. He is urban and rural at the same time; strong and frail; passive and aggressive. Seeing his work only begins to scratch the surface of who the man is behind the striking and beautiful art.
Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and raised in Quincy, Florida, this only child was influenced and grounded by his mother and grandmother. In a manner that is becoming all too familiar for Black artists, Dean’s start in artistic endeavors was a paint-by-number set given to him by the matriarchs. No expensive art lessons at a nearby studio, no visits to important galleries to introduce him to art. The dime-store paint set did a number on him, though. It wasn’t until much later in school that teachers took him to art fairs so he could be exposed to the actual world of art and everything it stood for.
He graduated from the Columbus College of Art and Design and relocated to Kansas City to work for Hallmark. In what seemed to be the normal trajectory of an artist in the ‘80s, he was encouraged to eschew painting in favor of a more graphics-focused career because – quite simply – one could make more money. Dean’s talent spoke for itself, and he had no trouble finding work at Hallmark in the area of style and innovation. While a great experience and a solid bill-paying gig, work in graphics and illustration wasn’t reaching his heart. He also found one more thing to be self-evident: he was completely naive of the commerce side of art. It began to occur to him that, “art required discretionary income on the part of the purchaser.”
As Dean moved from the corporate life to that of a full-time painter, he found the historic, economic, and social impacts of his profession to be as fascinating as the painting itself. His art is where, “Money, commerce, power, and integrity all intersect.” He began to experiment with his media, his subject matter, and his own historical context. The talent was clear, but convincing gallery owners to show his work, and buyers to pay money for his work, was a different task. His take on the situation though, is reflective of the reality – “People decide to support you, it doesn’t matter if you have talent.”
As his background, his talent, and his world experiences began to meld, Dean honed his artistic statements. “The focus of my work can be summed up in the word ‘Freedom’. There are layered complexities of slavery, corporations, Black culture, the human condition, and wealth. Not race, but building wealth on the backs of slavery. Power is at the center of everything. Great artists always challenge power.” While Dean has explored and defined his own view of power in the world, he is also quite interested in the frailties of life. Often this includes the Black perspective, and many times it includes a much broader, bucolic, more relaxed view that could be taken in from a rocking chair. In one instance a landscape is soothing, meditative, seductive. And immediately thereafter, the lonely face of a Buffalo Soldier is historical and personal. Many of the portraiture Dean paints are uncomfortable, and he likes it that way. He wants to make the viewing public uncomfortable, so they will take stock of the discomfort.
Dean also deals with the aging process in a way that urges the viewer to deal with it. Whether it is a barn that has been neglected for decades somewhere on the prairie, or a human being who is seemingly inactive and contemplative, Dean does not want anyone to shy away from the natural act of aging and decaying. He has a tender touch, though, when it comes to the depiction of time. As he does in all of his pieces, he shows a great deal of respect and admiration for his subject matter – animate or inanimate.
At the same time charming and humble, Dean is driven and wildly talented. His view of our shared world is for us to find, consume, digest, and ultimately decide if we want to be a part of it.
Featured in the February 4, 2023 issue of The Independent.
By Anne Potter Russ
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