Review of John Mitchell’s Paintings at the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution – 26 June – 24 July 2010 by David Lewis Baker
Howard Hodgkin, one of Bath’s most famous contemporary artists, once remarked ‘[I am] a representative painter, but not a painter of appearances. I paint representational pictures of emotional situations.’ This also encapsulates the work of the Bath based painter and psychotherapist John Mitchell, whose works display deeply emotional and poignant reactions to the world around and within him, as one would expect from a painter whose work is grounded in personal experiences, family and other relationships and broader social considerations. His style, a mixture of surrealism and figurative expressionism, contains elements paralleling some of the greats of modernism, including Bacon, Chagall, and Balthus, while content is suffused with storytelling, including in many of the works a sense of wider events occurring beyond the boundaries of the canvas.
‘Endgame’ has a curious couple sheltering under an inadequate umbrella gazing out of the canvas, while a fortified building burns behind them, leaving a sense that some kind of endgame is at work here.
‘The persistence of Desire’ has a couple in a tunnel-like room gazing at each other with what appears to be a mixture of regret, understanding and deep connection on their faces – giving a sense of the end of a relationship perhaps? Does resolution or escape lie under the tree and skies beyond one wonders.
‘Fallen’ has a Goya-like figure prone on the ground, with a sad child looking on, while a Chagall-like figure in red levitates above the scene. There is a sense here, that as one falls another rises?
‘A pink umbrella’ depicts a scene of great violence, the figure in the painting on the wall drawn from the famous napalm bombing incident in the 1960’s while the injured (or more likely dead) figure on the floor is guarded by a sinister gangster-like figure holding an incongruous pink umbrella. With its Bacon-like vertical/horizontal divisions of the composition and bloodied figure on the floor, this appears as a powerful meditation on many forms of violence in society.
Finally ‘Held’ depicts a struggling figure held by two men, while a line of police in the background wait behind their riot shields. It is not clear whether she is being held back, or held up, but again there is a strong sense of the inherent violence of our society.
John has said that: “I hope my work affects the viewer directly, by-passing the need for an immediate interpretation. The “meaning” of my painting changes for me as time passes. I assume that there are as many meanings as there are viewers and I’m content if they leave stirred and with a freshened eye.” From my experiences, this is only one of a number of positive reactions his work evokes.
David Lewis Baker