The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude.
The great art of life is sensation, to feel that we exist, even in pain.
The first time I encountered Mitch Griffiths‘ work I was in a discussion with a friend of mine, the talented British painter, Pam Hawkes, the two of us trying to define the precise quality that made a work of art more than sensational, more than merely provocative, but strong in all the deepest ways we measure something powerful: namely, we both agreed, the willingness of the artist to not only go somewhere that set the rest of us slightly on-edge, but even more importantly, the courage of the painter to put himself in harm’s way. Rather than bravado, it was the display of vulnerability ~ not just of the subject but also of the one wielding the brush ~ that made it impossible to look away.
The artist Mitch Griffin, offered Hawkes, was a perfect example of this, and here she shared with me his piece entitled, Pavement. We both took it in for a few moments in silence. I think I may have managed, “yes,” but really, what more was there to say? Pour over his body of work here and certainly you will see unflinching political and social commentary. His country’s beloved but recently much maligned Union Jack, for instance, makes a frequent appearance, but not altogether unsympathetically. Just as with the boy lost to an accidental overdose and the beauty being worked over by both surgeon and paparazzi alike, the victims and perpetrators here are not always that easily distinguished. And even when we think they are, yet still, there’s gentleness here, hope, and yes, even a whisper of gratitude.
INTERVIEW WITH MITCH GRIFFITHS
Wiltshire, Britain ~
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: There is such a wickedness in the way you pit modern-day icons up against classic religious and historical themes, suggesting that culture is not created by accident but rather by careful manipulation. Should art offer us a way out of this controlled environment? Or is such freedom only illusion? Is the best that art can offer us imaginative escape?
Mitch Griffiths: Art can be a medium for escape and take you on wonderful journeys, for both artist and viewer. However, it must have the resonance of reality to truly connect (and I don’t mean realist; It can be any style, any medium). There needs to be gravitas. The best work is monumental, not ornamental.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: Is art most powerful when a celebration of the best of humanity? Or when a vehicle to challenge and bring about change?
Mitch Griffiths: I would like to think that a painting that was a celebration of humanity would, by definition, be a vehicle for change.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: At a time when interactions have become increasingly oiled by visual images shared over the internet, have we watered down, even cheapened the artist’s influence on society? Or has all of this developed a collective appetite for visual exploration as never before?
Mitch Griffiths: We’ve reached saturation point regarding the bombardment of images and influences in popular culture.
[quote]We’ve never been more connected and yet more isolated from each other, retreating into our devices of communication.
If it’s more difficult for an artist to stand out then that can only be a good thing. It makes us try harder, to want to be better, to strive to rise above the bombardment and make a connection.[/quote]
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: Contemporary artists today you admire?
Mitch Griffiths: Mark Evans, Anthony Micallef.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: Is there a work of your own that cuts so close to the bone of what you care most about that it has continued to haunt you long after its completion?
Mitch Griffiths: A portrait of me and my father called Bridge of Genes. I’m not going to go into details about it but, it’s a very personal piece.
Mitch Griffiths: Also, on a wholly positive note, I managed to paint a giant portrait of me and my now wife without her knowing and get it exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery in London. It’s called, Sending Message: Be My wife. I proposed to her in front of it, in the gallery. That’s one of the most important things to happen in my life, not only documenting but playing an active role.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: At what point do you know you’ve created something powerful? Must there be pain or fear involved?
Mitch Griffiths: You know straight away if a concept is strong or has the potential to be a powerful piece of work. There are pitfalls along the way though: the idea may get muddled in the execution or the model may turn out to not be suitable. These things can happen when you are six weeks into a canvas.
[quote]One thing remains constant throughout the process: if you’re onto a good thing, you’ll get a chill up your spine.[/quote]
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: When you set out to do a new piece, are you driven by a desire to recreate a vision you are holding in your mind? Or is painting for you more about seeking answers to questions, a problem to solve?
Mitch Griffiths: It’s definitely about recreating a vision for me. What I manage to put on the canvas is normally about 10% of what I have in my mind. The process of creating a work is a tightrope between small victories and crushing frustrations. Again, this goes right from the concept stage, setting out models and compositions to putting the paint on the canvas. I have a very bi-polar relationship to my work.
No great art has ever been made without the artist having known danger.
~Rainer Maria Rilke
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: Is there a theme that cuts actually too close for you to explore, at least at this point in your life?
Mitch Griffiths: Nothing is off limits really. I just paint what I feel. The process of oil painting can be quite slow and therefore, it can be difficult to keep up with the rate and which ideas spew out of my head.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: Advice to an artist coming up today?
Mitch Griffiths: Do what you want to do. It’s the only way to keep your passion. You’ll need that passion, because you’re putting yourself out there.
Be honest. Be mischievous. Don’t worry about trying to be clever or fitting in. Be you, but be the best you. Make your expectations of yourself higher than anyone else would ever have of you and your art.
Put your energy into creating art, not being an artist.
Dream big, really big.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: What themes would you like to explore next?
Mitch Griffiths: A good poker player never shows his hand….