Artist Spotlight: Erin Mitchell
Published May 2015
Digital culture and technology continually influence the making of art, resulting in innovative forms of production such as Internet art, virtual reality performances, app-based pieces and more. Yet while technology can directly affect the creation of art in obvious ways—such as the integration of tools into art pieces—it also influences our visual perception in more subtle ways. Though she does not work directly with digital materials, San Francisco-based artist Erin Mitchell very directly references the effect of technology on art—specifically the perception of light and color. Mitchell’s work has appeared in the Aqua Art Miami Contemporary Art Fair, along with major exhibition spaces in San Francisco such as Southern Exposure, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and the Kala Art Institute. Working from her studio in Oakland, the artist focuses on technology and human experience—particularly as they relates to the perception of art. With the advent of online exhibitions, virtual art tours, and more, we increasingly perceive art through the veneer of a screen. This shift greatly influences Mitchell’s work. Well aware that “so much of what we see now is seen or broadcast on highly-developed, illuminated screens,” she seeks to extract the same visual qualities from materials that don’t actually involve technology. Studying everything from fine art to art history to French, Mitchell began to notice inherent similarities between disparate disciplines. The manner in which these color pigments “pool or bubble on the surface” of these compositions drive Mitchell’s work, leading to an exploration of “the multiple reflections and refractions [and simulacra] of our world in the Internet age.” Her bright, abstract works involve mixed media on synthetic materials such as frosted mylar film and clear acetate film. This combination results in a strong sense of movement as the materials seem to chart their own paths across the composition. While some layers of color seem to drip freely, others seem more linear and tight. Mitchell’s gouache and mirrored mylar pieces seem especially deceptive; it’s difficult to perceive the work as a painting and easier to associate it with something like a shifting, warped photograph. These explorations with color and perception become even more pronounced in Mitchell’s use of fluorescent pigments. Here, the pieces take on two identities: the way they appear in photographs and in reality. “Because of their frequency on the visible light spectrum, many of these colors can be seen with the human eye but never correctly digitally captured or represented,” Mitchell said. “In this way, they create a conversation between the immediate experience of seeing the pieces and viewing the pieces online or in digital photographs.” The gesture very clearly appears in each piece, in the way that some lines suggest rapid, passionate movements, while others imply slower, more calculated movement. Viewed on a computer screen, some lines even seem to echo color bars on a television screen. It’s only fitting that some of the titles of the pieces, such as “Rainbow Glitch 1,” reference the flickering association viewers can make between paint as a traditional medium and a reflection of technological abnormality. Mitchell is interested not only in the errors caused by technology but also by the humans who use it. In looking for the “personal or human mark in a digital world,” Mitchell found that error most effectively expresses a common, human universality. “I’m drawn to human error, that desire to take action, then regret, erase, and swipe away,” she said. “In my work I want to acknowledge that there’s equal beauty and importance in the errors of life—that life is lived in errors and how we transform them. I want to see beauty in the imperfectness of life.” Mitchell’s solo show Visual Prism will be on display at Hang Art Gallery until May 15, 2014.