Studio Visit with Erin Mitchell in Oakland, CA

T & B sat down with bay area artist, Erin Mitchell in her Oakland studio to get the scoop on just about everything art related. Between art making, curating, and working in San Francisco – she has a lot going on!

If you aren’t already familiar with the artist, Mitchell is a mixed-media artist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Originally from Los Angeles, Mitchell earned her BFA in Printmaking/Drawing from Washington University in St. Louis in 2011. Her work has been featured in exhibitions worldwide, most notably the 2011 Shanghai Youth Biennial. After wrapping up a number of projects in the last month, she’s working towards a debut solo exhibition at Hang Art Gallery for May 2015.

Erin Mitchell’s conceived landscapes set out to explore the implications of being a visceral and temporal individual in an ever-expanding world. Working in a broad range of printmaking, drawing, and painting techniques, Mitchell’s mixed-media works attempt to visually depict the relationship between the rapid, unceasing change of our planet and the weight of our own experience and understanding.

We’re so excited that we were able to grab an hour of her time and here’s the outcome:

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For starters, What’s your average day like?

My typical day in the studio starts after I leave work for the day in San Francisco, around 5 p.m. I usually grab some fuel (random snacks) and hop the BART to Fruitvale in Oakland, where my studio building is located.

Wednesdays have somehow become my power days; on those days, I’m usually in to work no later than 7:30 in the morning, which means I can head out earlier and grab a few extra hours in the studio in the afternoon.

Once I’m in Oakland, I’m in work mode. I take off my rings, change out shoes and anything else nice I might be wearing (there’s one really smudgy white tee that hangs out in my studio just for this reason), and slip on the big headphones. These days, I tend to be the last one in our studio building at night, which means I can also dance with abandon.

When I’m looking to start a piece or looking for inspiration, I usually turn to the visual archive I’m constantly compiling. I’ve got a Dropbox folder full of screenshots or found imagery, but now it also permeats my iPhone and my multiple computer desktops. I usually pull up anything that strikes me from here, and often start pieces from relationship between the images I pick.

I work as long as I can, but try to be home before midnight for sanity.

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Sounds like a productive day! Can you tell us about the current paintings your working on?

I’m actually in the position to launch into a new series of work, which is a really exciting place to be. In the series I just finished, including piece “Pink Cloud,” I just began to incorporate the influences of the some of the digital and glitch marks I’ve been looking at. I’m interested in the digital mark as something that is a core visual element in the way we consume images and content today; I’m also interested in the way we look through it… like how we don’t see the structure of windows or browsers or look through the static or buffering as we wait for our hiccuping Netflix service to load.

That being said, I’m interested in pushing my materials in the direction of this curiosity. I want to start playing more with light, specifically in terms of luminous or light-manipulating materials and projections. The element of expansion is important as well. All of these images are made of the same color particles of light in screens… what about taking these complexities apart? There’s so many complexities in our world that could be deconstructed and pulled apart.

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What are a few challenges you’ve had to work through with the new materials you are working with?

(laughs) Challenges for sure. When you like to play with experimental materials, there’s definitely a learning curve.

I’ve been using CYMK printer toner straight out of the drums recently, and that’s been funny. I’ve definitely been reprimanded by friends for toxicity concerns, and it can make a huge mess. It’s basically superfine, pigmented plastic particles, but it physically just floats and cascades. It’s gorgeous, pure color. It’s a wonderfully seductive and elusive material to manipulate. However, it’s also a material we all frequently handle and take for granted; few of us are conscious of the scope of its use or have even seen it in its raw state. We’re just frustrated when we’re out of it or when it doesn’t work as we need it to. We never interact with it directly, we just feed our printers.

I’m also hoping to start integrating some digital or even video elements in the future, but I’m totally new to this media as well.

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What artists are you inspired by? Do you have any other sources for inspiration? 

I find that my inspiration comes less from individual artists these days than from found images; that being said, I have artists whom I greatly respect and whose work I really love. One of these artists working now is Leslie Shows, who creates these projected landscapes that use a wide range of mixed-media. Some of her pieces have this really wonderful collaged or even glitching sort of aesthetic that I really love; it’s as if the natural world collides with painterly abstraction and digital noise and the impositions or trappings of manmade civilization.

In terms of sourcing inspiration, I’m always looking. I shoot on my phone or am constantly pulling images from the internet, or now, taking lots of screenshots where imagery can play off each other (definitely something I want to focus on in forthcoming works). I’m also really interested in the idea of interfaces and how authority is built into certain formats or constructions of receiving images or information. I’m interested in the idea of multiple truths, as in, as more individual voices gain authority with the expansion of the internet, more of them have authoritative tools for communication and dissemination… but how do you know who to trust? Who’s telling the right story? There were a lot of issues with this surrounding last year’s Boston Marathon bombings, of speculative tweets going viral that were factually inaccurate.

I find this blurriness of truth, or even “truthiness,” so fascinating. So maybe I’m watching a lot of different outputs.

Where do you see your work going next? 

Building on the ideas I’ve alluded to above, I’m interested in deepening my exploration into the influence of the digital mark and the concept of the digital interface onto the way we now see our world. I want to incorporate a wider range of new media that speaks more directly to these relationships, and explore ideas of pulling apart the layers of visual (and allegorical) complexity. Personally, I know I will always be drawn to working with a visceral and organic mark, so I want to explore that vocabulary in context of broader contemporary dialogues.

Do you have any shows or projects coming up?

I’m currently working towards a solo exhibition with Hang Art Gallery for May 2015, but I’m fortunate to have just wrapped up a number of really great projects. In addition to participating in this year’s East Bay Open Studios, in the past month, I was invited to curate the most recent Inventory Pick exhibition at Hang Art Gallery, as well as speak about some of my decisions for the show and my own practice. (If you’d like to hear the live recording of the talk, you can check it out here). I was also selected to participate in a silent art auction at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, juried by the museum’s own Beal Senior Curator of Contemporary Art Jen Mergel. My piece, Ray, was sold at auction at the museum’s annual Summer Party gala and benefit on June 7th.

In terms of upcoming events, I’m excited to announce that I’ll be participating in Southern Exposure’s annual Monster Drawing Rally on Friday, July 11th. One of the biggest annual art events in the Bay Area, it always draws a great mix of emerging and established local artists. Attendees can purchase drawings created on the spot, all benefitting Southern Exposure. The lineup this year is pretty stellar! Check it out here.

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To view more of Erin Mitchell’s work, take a peek at her website and check out her work at Hang Art gallery in San Francisco.

Content and Photography by Heather Day for Taupe & Birch.

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