Love of subject matter helps artists succeed
By Kristin Hoerth
If you’ve never heard much about Florida-based artist Dean Mitchell before now, that’s about to change. At the Phoenix Art Museum’s annual The West Select show in November, Mitchell swept most of the top awards, winning best of show, the gold medal for works on paper, and the museum’s purchase award. The awards were given to a piece called PIMA RELIC, but all four of the watercolors Mitchell contributed to the show grew out of time he spent touring Indian lands in the Phoenix area. They are hauntingly beautiful images of decay and disintegration as seen in abandoned structures and a deserted landscape.
During the opening weekend of The West Select, I had the good fortune to hear Mitchell talk about his work in general and his images of the West in particular. The artist often focuses his attention on decrepit houses and other structures that speak volumes about the fleetingness of life and mans’ ability to survive. He reflected that the scenes he witnessed on the Pima reservation were hard to look at but must be looked at nonetheless, because looking at them—becoming aware of the struggles happening around us—is what makes us human. Challenging how people see the world, challenging them to have compassion for those less fortunate despite the discomfort that might cause, is clearly an artistic endeavor Mitchell feels passionate about.
Back in the office after attending The West Select, I continued working on this month’s issue and was struck by the works of another talented artist who uses watercolors: Sueellen Ross (see page 70) begins her paintings of animals with detailed graphite drawings, fills in dark areas with India ink, paints with watercolors, and finishes by adding texture and depth with colored pencils. The result? Highly realistic renderings of cats, dogs, and other animals caught in poses every animal lover can relate to—a pair of dogs chasing each other through the grass, cats staring intently out a sliding-glass door.
In our interview with Ross, she doesn’t talk about the power of her artwork to challenge the viewer or address important social issues. In fact, she tells of frequently being advised to trade her “cute” subject matter for something more serious. But Ross continues to capture the animals that are dear to her, and her passion for them shines through in her work. In my opinion, it’s that passion that makes an artist truly successful, no matter what subject they choose to portray.
Featured in the January 2013 issue of Southwest Art magazine–click below to purchase:
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