According to contemporary artist Gavin Mitchell, the phrase that best describes his work is ‘mixed up’. From his inspirations to his processes, his use of materials and all the way to the finished product, his aesthetic is determined by an idea of disorder and deconstruction. Pulling apart the ordinary to put it back together in extraordinary ways.
Gavin came to Brighton for ice cream and a catch up, so we asked him a few questions about Geishas, Skateboards and baby food art…
What do you think of our re-brand?
I like it. I think it’s simple. What’s in a name anyway? I don’t think it will matter in 6 months time but I do think it’s good because it’s not over complicated. Enter Gallery sounds a bit more grown up. I mean the logo is cool but the name is a bit more grown up. artrepublic feels a bit more street art. You have a lot of street art in Enter gallery of course but I think the new name broadens your appeal.
When I saw it I thought, I didn’t know why you had done it. Now I see it with the new branding and I think it looks really good. Some people will always be really cynical about change but if people want to buy the art they will buy the art.
How have you found lockdown as an artist?
I’ve been busy. The Artist Support Pledge was really good for me. I’ve sold quite a few prints from that. I’ve also had private sales, from the far east weirdly. Hong Kong and Singapore - in particular. People have been saying they have been wanting one of my works for a while as I have done a couple of art fairs out there.
I was also cycling as part of my daily exercise from my home and studio as I’ve got the perfect route along the river. So I’ve been pretty productive actually.
Tell us about the new Skatepark series of prints?
The set of three Skatepark images complete the Parklife series one year after the first images were released. The Parklife series began as response to the first lockdown when for the first time in anyone’s lives the simple act of leaving our homes became a considered decision.. Our right to open spaces and activities had to be censored.
Skateboards seemed the most logical way to round off the series. Skateboarding has long been an expression of freedom and individuality, both the act of boarding and the customising of the boards themselves. I decided to borrow existing boards from skaters, already used and abused by their owners and each with its own story of triumph and disaster!
When I assembled the images the artwork on the skateboards seemed to mirror the patterns on the kimonos. A happy accident that I think makes the final image richer. Another unintended and welcome consequence of using the Skateboards in the composition appears to be the change in attitude of the Geishas from serene to badass. I think this is what’s called the beauties of fortuity.
How do you create your prints? What is your process?
I use a combination of vintage postcards that I buy online, combined with my own photographs which I edit digitally. The first vintage geisha postcard I found was at a car boot sale where I found a vintage playboy at the same time. That’s when I had the idea to do the two together. I have always done collage and I wanted to build up that unexpected juxtaposition.
They are black and white images about 100 years old so when I blow them up after I have scanned them into my computer, you realise they are hand-tinted which means I get a kind of crude colouring. I decided to add gold leaf as a way of adding my own hand-finishing. It was my additional bit to the original mark making which I only saw after blowing up the images.
The added elements are physical objects I have photographed and then spent a lot of time digitally trying to make look real and part of the vintage photo.
With Monster Book for Girls I drew the dragon picture on the back and then photographed it and then dropped it into the image. Every element is a real element but created digitally. I don’t use any google images or anything like that.
I’ve just been in that really good flea market round the corner, Snoopers Paradise. That’s amazing I could get images from just in there for the rest of my life!
What does your studio look like?
It’s filled with things I photograph for my work so rollerskates, spacehoppers, vintage cars and playboys. I’ve got loads of stuff. Even a huge crocodile.
At the moment my floor is literally covered in red foil and gold leaf from the hand-finishing. Sometimes I just walk out of my studio with gold leaf all over myself I look like Midas.
What are you working on now and what do you have in the pipeline?
I’ve done a series of work where I took an old photograph and put a stamp on top of their head. They were original photographs from an album from house clearance. It’s really sad as they obviously didn’t have any family the photos could be passed onto. I put a stamp on their head to commemorate them but also keep them anonymous.
I’ve also been working on commissions. Incorporating personal collections into portraits. It’s like memorabilia but in a cool way. There was one guy where his wife hated all his toy cars and so they did a deal where they commissioned me do an image which included his car collection, to get rid of the actual cars and have the artwork in his office. The funny thing is their little boy found all the cars and refused to let them go so the cars are still in the house for their son to play with!
I’m currently doing a playing card series. I did a large installation with them but I would like to do a print series as well. They’re really cool cards I want to do some original screen prints on.
I’m also hoping to do a collaboration with Nam Tran on a ceramic series.
Why do you think it is important to have art in the home and what do you think your artwork adds to a space?
There are two kinds of artwork, there's what I call baby food art which tastes nice and is easy to swallow and there's artwork with a narrative that aim is to challenge, amuse and excite.
If you can make people pause for a while in front of your work that for me is what an artist should aspire to do. For me there is too much generic art out there, work that aims to be decorative rather than trying to engage.
I hope it's clear which category I fall into?
What is it about Geishas that appeal to you?
Geishas have got a really nice ethereal, soft quality and that’s what a lot of people say about my prints. They calm a room. People tend to put them in their bedrooms because there is a real soothing feel to them.
I would kind of like to move on from the geishas but then I think of new ideas and then my passion for them gets reignited. There is something about them that makes me go back to them.
How was your ice cream?