The Canadian Art Database

Russell Keziere

John Mitchell
306 Abbott, Vancouver, March and April

Vanguard, Vol.9 #4, May 1980.
[ 550 words ]

The task of circumventing the artistic ego in the creation of original forms has been one which has plagued the history of contemporary painting. The automatistes and the abstract expressionists found authority in abandon; art surfaced only when one was not looking. Conversely, the serialists found abandon in authority. The geometric grid, the arbitrarily repeated shape, the mathematical application of principles led to a peaceful sterility. Curiously, they are related. Whether one tosses the I Ching to obtain the necessary direction in one's art (John Cage) or leans on random geometrical directions (Sol LeWitt) or premeditated geometrical directions (Bernard Venet), or whether one seeks the light of raw intuition, the route to true innovative form is rarely in the direction we suspect.

John Mitchell's recent floor tile paintings are built upon several such premises, none of which should really be taken without a grain of salt. Mitchell's work is very much unsalted. The works originated as 16 drawings, shown earlier at Pumps gallery. These drawings are essentially geometric forms sketched with minimal lines, which derive from the parameters of the square. Diagonals, circles and triangles predominate in shapes which appear with all the predictability of children's blocks. There is nothing wrong with children's blocks, (e.g., Mike Banwell's three-dimensional constructions) but there is something suspicious about a covert reference to rationality in something overtly playful and simplistic.

The drawings, a use of line derived from the parameters of the square, rather like a golden rectangle without the proportions, are then metamorphosed onto a blueprint and then further metamorphosed onto 16 tile paintings. The principle seems to be one that tests the borders of art: art is capable of metempsychosis. This must be the statement; the forms in the drawings, blueprints and tile paintings are so basically simple that it must be the fact of their repetition which is significant.

This casual attitude toward materials is reiterated in his choice of paint and colour. Basic primary colours are selected to accompany predetermined geometrical shapes; ordinary poster paint is used to de-emphasise the fact of their being paintings. The paintings are, humbly, on the floor, subject to eventual decay from pedestrian traffic and ultimate destruction with a wet mop. (The exhibition space is that of another artist's private studio; presumably he washes his floor.)

The destiny of the paintings, however, will be documentation in a silk-screened catalogue which will reproduce all 16 paintings on 16 four-inch square cards. The metempsychosis continues.

There is a good case, however, for concluding that it is not the indubitable persistence of artistic forms transmigrating from one medium to another, but rather a pallid spin-off of a simplistic idea. There is an equally good case for concluding that the artist is not attesting to the necessity of humility in art (the choice of a tenuous medium, poster paint, geometrically determined shapes, arbitrarily selected colours) but rather to the fact of his own personal abnegation. The former interpretation is the one presented by the artist; the latter is the one left to an intelligent viewer.

Vanguard, Vol.9 #4, May 1980.

Text: © Russell Keziere. All rights reserved.

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