A visit with Clark Mitchell at his studio in Cotati, CA
Text by Bonnie Gangelhoff, Photos by Paul O’Valle
This story was featured in the March 2013 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Order the Southwest Art March 2013 print issue, or get the Southwest Art March 2013 digital download now…Or better yet, just subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss a story!
Describe your studio. The exterior is a wonderful mix of Craftsman, subtle Southwest, and old-time-Sonoma County water tower. Three of the main walls are straw bale, and the entire building is coated with stucco. The interior is hand-plastered, including built-in bench seats made from plaster-covered bales, and there are wonderfully organic, rounded window and door openings. At one end is a small two-story tower with an art library and a tiny guest bedroom. The ground floor is quite spacious to allow room for a number of students and easels. This is flanked on one side by a storage area for supplies and my art collection and on the other side by a space for storing and preparing paper and panels for painting. All the exposed columns are recycled wood.
Did you design the studio? I was fully involved with the design of the studio from the beginning. To avoid fussing with easels, the designer and I came up with an alternative—an 18-foot-long wire fence is mounted to one of the plaster walls. This allows me to easily clamp on my drawing boards and lets pastel dust fall to the floor. I can have over 10 paintings going at once, side by side. Adjoining this is an area with a wide white backdrop against which I do oil paintings. There are two niches for displaying sculptures, small paintings, or curios. Also something delightful built into one wall is a “truth window,” which is typical for bale buildings. This “proves” that the walls are indeed filled with straw. Mine is made from an old icebox door with triple-pane glass. I removed the middle pane and created a collage of whimsical items from my life.
How do your physical surroundings in Sonoma County influence your paintings? My partner and I live on country property about three-quarters of the way up a grassy hillside, with wonderful paintable views in many directions. My local plein-air workshops always begin with a day on my property. And within 30 minutes of my studio, I can be out at the rugged coastline painting on a beach, on steep hillsides looking down on the coast, deep among towering redwoods, or standing in the midst of open farmland and marshes.
What are some of your favorite places to paint? Along the rugged Pacific coast, tucked in the valleys of rolling oak-studded hills, and up on a hillside overlooking the crazy patchwork of fall vineyards.
How do you describe your style of work? Painterly realism. I love the bold abstract basis for a composition, overlaid with enough detail to crystallize into a recognizable subject when viewed from a distance.
What do you keep in your studio? In the tower library, I rotate works by Randy Sexton, Ray Roberts, Jesse Powell, Gustave Baumann, Russell Chatham, and many others. I have a bookcase filled with inspiration for my students as well as for myself.
Do you listen to music in your studio? I have eclectic taste—often classical, including Chopin, Mozart, and Debussy. I also listen to classic rock and roll, Annie Lennox, Mumford and Sons, Vampire Weekend, songs in Spanish, and lately, I listen to novels.
If your studio were on fire, what is the one thing you would save? A wild seascape by S.C. Yuan that reminds me of the power of painting with abandon.
What impresses you about other artists’ works? In oil paintings, I am especially impressed with the ease with which some painters mix and apply large quantities of paint, the looseness of their strokes, the luminous transparency of their darks, and their bold compositions.
What is one place people will never find you? In an office working 9 to 5.
When you are not painting, what do you enjoy doing? Gardening, reading, playing board games and cards with friends, playing with our dog, and eating home-cooked meals—bless my husband.
When people come to visit, where do you like to take them? I take them to the coast, hiking, wineries, and good restaurants.
Featured in the March 2013 issue of Southwest Art magazine–click below to purchase:
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