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Tuesday 09.25.07

« Object Place | Main | What Portland Needs to do to become a world-class arts city? »

Jeffry Mitchell at Pulliam Deffenbaugh

Elephant Lantern 2007 Jeffry Mitchell 2007

Upon entering the the Pulliam Deffenbaugh gallery this month, artist Jeffry Mitchell's work greets you with a giant "Hello!" followed by exclamation points. The first, most impulsive response hearkens to childhood, and the mind answers with an enthused "Hellooooo!" in return. Perhaps it is the handstands of the ceramic elephants on Mitchell's shelves, or the curve of the greetings that adorn the big elephant lantern and drawings, but an intonation resonates from the letters. A chorus of joyous hellos echo in rounds as the viewer moves from piece to piece. Soft pinks, blues, and grays are the palette of this exhibit, and from a distance, the drawings and ceramic pieces seem to melt delicately into the white of the gallery walls. Upon closer examination, the prolific panoply of imagery Mitchell uses to build his "Sphinx" drawings appears a dualistic fantasy.

Sphinx Drawing (Payne's Gray) Welcome 2007

Flowers and plants emanate kaleidoscopically from the center out while flags fly in prosperity and pride from bits of architecture or peekabooing animal characters. The essence of Fibonacci and sacred geometry seem to bauble beneath the surface as these chattering nurseries become the faces of dragons and other intimidating entities. It is the sum of these joyous parts that is the representation of Mitchell's greater good when these pantheistic playmates vibrate in chummy harmony. There is a downright urge to giggle as Mitchell's elephant lantern croons its "Helloooooooo!" and the ceramic elephants perform their enthusiastic acrobatics in the distance; absurdity and silliness expound and promulgate in a sacred chord. This idea carries Mitchell's sketches for rugs and other functional ceramics into the realm of symbols as well, despite their everyday use. His decision to extend his oeuvre into the realm of design serves as a broadening of his reference, and the notions of belief systems and deities being a vital part of everyday living. More often this occurrence prevails in more eastern and african societies and in the work of many folk artists, where the notions of personal mythology flow freely in the midst of the everyday.

Dream House Jacob Baker

Blue Bear Umbrella Stand 2006 Jeffry Mitchell

Yet, this show is enigmatic. While exquisitely beautiful and delicately constructed, these pieces seem to rely a bit too much on their context. The gallery space and the history of this artist's work seem to carry him here, and it seems without these, much would be altered and lost. Granted, this is, in general the case with just about everything, but here it is a bit confounding. These pieces are almost too sweet, calling to mind more the tales of Babar and children's stories more than religious iconography. Yet perhaps this is Mitchell's goal. There is a love here. A love of making and a joy and tongue in cheek attitude about the seriousness associated with art these days.

Hello Bear Shelf With Small Elephants Jeffry Mitchell 2007

One of the bears on the ceramic bear shelf sticks out his tongue, and Mitchell titles his sphinx drawings with an addendum of either 'Ballpoint Pen' or the particular color he uses such as 'French Ultramarine Blue' or 'Payne's Gray'. Both of these seem to purposely subvert themselves as Mitchell refers to high art and religious deities and then embodies them with personally appointed icons, so light and fluffy in name and make. They seem almost decorative in a coincidentally eastern yet freely western tradition. There is a desire to reference all of this without adhering to it strictly. Mitchell is more interested in the celebratory aspect of making in this show, in dancing and playing in and around this work, his created language. He discusses inner light with a lantern and self-reflection with a mirror. This show seems to be a spiritual allegory without narrative, without beginning or end, one meant merely to exist in space, a symbol unto itself.

Mitchell is a skilled draftsman and technician, and he expounds upon the wonder still to be found in that which is made by hand. The drawings and ceramics are executed with one-shot formalism demonstrated by the master craftsmen among all media. While the weight of fables, of Lewis Carroll and the tales of Alice in Wonderland seems often lost on our adult culture, fable and myth is planted deep within our subconscious. Religious myths shape the bulk of our country and legislature, and thus perhaps Mitchell's work is more weighty than one may immediately suppose. He sneaks the weight of his ideas into the pantheism of peonies and playmates, sublimely presupposing their joy and silly smiles will weave its way into the way we think and move.

Posted by Amy Bernstein on September 25, 2007 at 9:34 | Comments (2)


Yeah, I like Jeffry's work but it doesnt have the edge it had when I first came across it 8.5 years ago. Ocassionally he hits grand slams like his turtle wedding but a lot of the current work has a problem a lot of Seattle stuff has... it is too tidy both conceptually and formally. I call it the "yuppie default" aesthetic and the work from McMakin to Lead Pencil Studio and Joe Fife all seems to follow their own rulebooks too much.

Jack Daws is the biggest exception up there, I think he wants people to question whether he has made a serious lapse in judgement or not. This isnt just a conceptual conceit it also gets into fabrication and the net result in this show by Mitchell is a good show that seems designed to be as good as it is... the effect is a tad predictable and precious.

I love the elephant though.... maybe if it were supersized in a "stay puff marshmallow man" way? That would be a bringer of Doom... with good manners and a cheery disposition? Maybe that is just my own preference for barbarian etiquette?

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 25, 2007 09:33 AM

I found this show confounding and intriguing. It was so over-the-top cutesy and banal. The drawings were ornate to the point of boredom and the sculptures were so carefully presented that I was keen to see the urgency behind this vision. And...?

Ultimately, it tends to stick with me when I leave a show and I'm not sure what I saw, or if the joke was on me.

Posted by: inexile [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 25, 2007 08:02 PM

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