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Interview: Metra Mitchell

Cat's Meow by Metra Mitchell

(Pre-Interview Self- Introduction)

The distorted figurative forms and intensity of emotion in Max Beckmann work has spoken to me on a deep level since childhood. His honest response to the trauma and beauty of life resonate and transport me far beyond “the realm of pictures”. I think this is because my interpretation of pictures is “the theater of painting”- it’s the good, the bad and the ugly. I view his characters as performers on a stage... which I have come to understand is acted out in my own work.

1) Can you introduce yourself? Where are you from and where did you study art? When did you first have an interest in becoming an artist?

My name is Metra Mitchell and I am a figurative painter who is interested in the theater of painting. I grew up in a home with a Persian Mother from Tehran, Iran and a father from Kentucky, USA. I spent most of my childhood running around barefoot playing in the backyard or isolated in my bedroom making drawings, paintings and playing with Dolls. I had few friends who could understand my background. Let’s just say, my upbringing wasn’t traditional. I knew by the first grade I was a painter and declared to dedicate my life to the art form. I went on to pursue my BFA in Painting with a Minor in Art History from Western Kentucky University on a full art scholarship. I then went on to receive my terminal degree MFA in Painting from Fontbonne University in St. Louis, MO.

2) What is an archetype? How does it manifest in your paintings? Is there a bit of idealization or generalization involved in the depiction of the archetypal characters as in a Greco-Roman sculpture? Also, does the concept of the archetype relate at all to Walter Benjamin's writing?

My interpretation of an archetype is a recurring symbol or motif in art and literature which can be understood across time and space. In Jungian psychology, the archetypes represent universal patterns and images that are part of the collective unconscious. Jung believed that we inherit these archetypes much in the way we inherit instinctive patterns of behavior. My work explores these deeper psychological meanings through the act of painting. You mentioned Greco-Roman mythological sculpture and, surely, archetypes are seen abundantly throughout the visual story-telling in the art of the ancients. You mentioned Walter Benjamin- I am interested is ideas surrounding essence/presence and aura which he has explored.

3) You also mention the concept of the constellation in describing the imagery in your work. Does your work relate at all to the idea of the dialectical image that Walter Benjamin discusses? Is there any relationship between the concept of the dialectical image and the archetype?

You mentioned Benjamin Walter- I am not an expert on his work and other than some basic themes I am not fully ready to draw comparisons between my work and his thoughts as I know little to nothing about his writing. My apologies. My regency to “constellations” simply is pointing towards the unique imagery and symbolism which I reference within my personal work.

Social Hour by Metra Mitchell

4) Vulnerability is an important psychological aspect of your art, and you apply this situation to both male and female characters, whose bodies are often exposed as sexy images. Is there a female gaze, which would be a female equivalent of the male gaze, that happens in your work? Can you describe this female gaze?

I am not exploring the female gaze on an intentional level and I’m not really interested in analyzing the male gaze. As a figurative artist, the figurative body to me holds the emotional residues of everyday life. When you are a figurative artist, the body will be objectified- and there is not really anyway around it. I’ve always viewed painting the body as the same exact thing to playing with dolls. It’s always exciting when anyone wants to join in and play with you on the playground or in the dollhouse.

5) Does objectification occur in your work, if vulnerability is important to your work as well? Or do objectification and vulnerability not relate (as concepts)? How do you avoid objectification while still dealing with the concept and imagery of vulnerability?

As a symbolist figurative painter- I cannot deny the fact the body is objectified and I do not view this as a dirty thing. When I engage in the act of painting, I become detached from the outside world- and then begin the journey into “the down below” of an “unseen” world -wandering the corridors of my mind- scavenging/hunting my soul ... I find within the act of painting, you find some important keys/clues needed to unlock the secret doors/compartments- arriving back to the edge of the field of humanity, “the known world”, you can share that new-found knowledge with the rest of humanity in hopes to make the world a better place.

6a) In your work, most of the spaces that the characters occupy are interior spaces that limit how deep the depth of view can go. This suggests an interior space like a theatre. What is the psychological difference between an interior space and the exterior?

I like the control of setting up the dollhouse furniture and letting the dolls play within that environment.

6b) Is the dichotomy or binary opposition that is said to exist between the culture and nature true in your opinion?

Do not understand this question?

6c) How has patriarchy subordinated interiority to exteriority and public life?

Do not understand this question. On patriarchy in general- I know which men I can trust and which to avoid. Other that, no comment.

6d) Do you see a contradiction in that women were associated with interior spaces (of homes) in the past, but women were also associated with nature?

Woman can be apart of any world they desire.

6e) Shouldn't interior spaces actually be associated with culture and exterior spaces be associated with nature?

It’s not for me to say… the definitions of space are limitless for each individual artist. For me- I like the control of dollhouse setting for others maybe they prefer the vastness of a mountain range or under the sea?

Lady Nocturne by Metra Mitchell

7) As you openly state that your painting comprises theatrical environments, your painting appears to acknowledge the performativity of beauty, gender, and identity. What does performativity mean, and what ramifications does it have for your art?

In the theatre of painting, the character archetype reinact the experiences from external reality. To me, they are much like Empaths- they have the unique ability to sense and absorb the feelings of the world around them. This unique quality makes highly sensitive characters caring, compassionate, and understanding of other people. On the other hand they are constantly battling emotional fatigue. I learn so much through their performance, but its important to realize in the “feeling” of Their surroundings as a hypersensitive body in space it can be quite taxing on them.

8) Who are some of the well-known psychologists and their theories that you studied? How do they impact your art?

I am not a psychologist- my apologies. I am just interested in exploring the unconscious mind.

9a) Can you talk about your painting, titled "Cat's Meow?"

“Cat’s Meow”, Oil on Wood, 36 x 36 inches. The idea for this painting began with a miniature arrangement complete with dollhouse-sized furniture, mirror and toys which encouraged play. I wanted the stage to feature visual transformations and have an emotional appeal. Inside the womb of the fireplace lives a bit of a surprise and inside the reflection of the mirror lives another question. Metaphors of the instability of things exist in this world as does the potential for something passionate and new. All of this is on my mind as we prepare to travel to London tomorrow for a Spring Break filled with museums and art amidst an ever-changing and uncertain world.

9b) Why does the mirror not include the other view of the female character?

The mirror is reflecting the table and it’s surface area.. the candles are symbols.

9c) What is the significance of the golden lion sculpture?

The gold Lion is represents strength in the world of reality that’s why it’s placed on the mantle. The black cat inside the fireplace represents strength in the down below if the unconscious that’s why she’s in the womb of the fireplace.

Threshold Guardians by Metra Mitchell

10) Who are some of your favorite artists who influence your art?

Here is a list of my favorite works of art & forms of art in no particular order...

- Ancient Egypt “Last Judgment of HuNefer” & “The Seated Scribe”.

- Medieval Gargoyles

- Hieronymous Bosch “Garden of Earthly Delights”

- Botticelli “La Primavera”

- Bronzino “Exposures of Luxury”

- Romanticism- Fuseli “The Nightmare”

- Belgian Surrealism- Khnopff “Caress of the Sphinx”

- Goya “Witches Sabbath” and also My favorite interpretation is embodied in a quote by Goya...”Fantasy, abandoned by reason, produces impossible monsters; United with it, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of marvels.”

- Leonora Carrington “The Inn of the Dawn Horse (A Self Portrait)” and her whole life story, really.

- Balthus “Therese Dreaming”, always.

- Edvard Munch “The Dance” & “Puberty”

- Lotte Reiniger- Shadow Puppets, Plays and Silhouette Narratives.

- Silent films- Ingmar Bergman “Seventh Seal”

- Silent Films- “Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror”, 1922.

- Sylvia Plath “Medusa” (and every poem of hers really- I can recite six from memory- my goal is to be able to recite them all before I die.)

11) How will your art evolve in the future in terms of style or content? Where do you see yourself in the next 5 or 10 years? What are your dreams and ambitions for the future?

I want to keep investing in my set designs so I can create more elaborate and controlled settings for the characters to play. Painting is continuing to reveal more and more knowledge to me. I’m excited dive deeper into the Shadowland to explore more and more of its mysteries. My only professional dream is to continue to paint.

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