LINDA MITCHELL: Exploring the beast within

Linda Mitchell on her ‘spirit animals’

ART Mitchell 1
EXPANSIVE YET PERSONAL: Linda Mitchell's large format works on display.

The Atlanta artist Linda Mitchell will bring a coterie of real and imagined animals to Mason Fine Art with Esprits des Animaux, a collection of 22 of Mitchell’s mixed media paintings, on exhibit through March 27.

The works, many large in scope and size, are composed of painted and photographic images, fabric, wood, glass, and found objects. Mitchell describes her pieces as “spirit animals.”

“They speak for me,” she explains in a prepared statement, as she finds herself “exploring this human life and searching for truth. The world of animals evokes a different kind of emotional landscape with natural and sincere expression,” she continues. “The multimedia paintings create intricate, surreal scenes, reflecting life’s complexity — layered with experience, memory, expectations, hopes, and dreams.”

I wanted to know more, so I sent the artist a few questions by email. She was quick to respond.

Her website proclaims, “Paintings and installations populated by animals, both real and imagined. Complex narratives exploring the human psyche.” Both real and imagined — are you painting animals as imagined by you, I ask, or are you presenting us with your vision of the way the animals may imagine themselves?

“I paint animals of my own creation as well as realistic ones from nature, but some of my animals probably have imagined themselves into existence, so …”

What turned Mitchell’s focus to animals? Did she start out painting them, or, once she honed her artistic skills, was the world of animals and their imagery something she wanted to further explore?

“I’ve always loved animals and found them to be the most interesting subjects. I’ve been painting, drawing, and sculpting animal figures since I was a child. And later in life, my dogs were the first animals to emerge when I was finding my voice in my mature work. I love my dogs and enjoy rendering their images and using their specific emotional qualities to tell different stories. I use different animals for various effects, whether it is a deer to express gentleness or a lion to express strength. There are so many varieties of beasts to explore, with different physical and behavioral characteristics. I never tire of trying new species in my work. I feel lucky to share this planet with so many wondrous creatures, and hope we can preserve their existence.”

Through better knowing animals, might we humans better know ourselves, I wonder, or are the animals in Mitchell’s work more objects of our affection, such as pets?

“I use animals as stand-ins for humans and their emotional lives, because much of the story that I am telling is about the human experience. Animals are sincere in their emotional lives, and I find a freshness in using them as metaphors to help us see ourselves.”

Most of the works in this exhibit are large-format, multimedia paintings. I ask if the works are so big because Mitchell feels the need to express herself on a large canvass, or whether she is trying to convey that animals play a larger-than-life role in our lives.

“I think that the beasts want to emerge in a strong form to confront the viewer as an equal. It is so physically powerful to work in the large format, and there is a freedom of movement and gesture that can only occur at this scale. The exertion translates to visual energy which I want the viewer to feel. The natural world is vast and enveloping, so I hope that some of these works reflect that feeling.”

SINCERE AND EMOTIONAL: Linda Mitchell’s ‘spirit animals.’ Photo credit: Linda Mitchell / Mason Fine Art

Before the pandemic, Mitchell was painting small pieces and leaving them in public places to be discovered by passers-by. Did she do it for fun, or did she think people needed a little help in their daily lives, and this was her way of providing it?

“The #freeart Puppers were a side project that I really enjoyed making and leaving for people to find. I was hoping to spread some positivity in a world which sorely needed it. Each one has a secret positive message on the back. Also, I had a lot of materials that I was using up before I moved my studio, and this seemed a good way to do so. I ended up leaving 382 of them by my last count. I often get messages and photos from the recipients showing me where their Pupper resides in their home or business, and they tell me how much they love it. It was conceived as a happiness project, and it ultimately brought me as much happiness as the people who found the Puppers! —CL—

Esprits des Animaux runs through March 27 at Mason Fine Art, 415 Plasters Ave., Atlanta, 404.879.1500. Masks and six-foot social distancing are required.