1858 Prize Profile: Jason Mitcham

Stop and go

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Each year, the Gibbes Museum of Art and Society 1858, a young Gibbes patrons fundraising group, award the 1858 Prize for Contemporary Southern Art to an artist living and working south of the Mason-Dixon line. This year, seven artists made the short list: Jim Arendt, Sonya Clark, André Leon Gray, Jackson Martin, Jason Mitcham, Damian Stamer, and Stacy Lynn Waddell. We'll be posting a short Q&A with each artist in the weeks leading up to the announcement.

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Jason Mitcham is a painter who transforms his paintings into meticulous stop-motion animations. The Greensboro, N.C.-born artist is fascinated by urban and suburban landscapes — often, his films conjure up a muted, soulless world where people are either absent, or seem to live their lives devoid of any meaningful connection. Mitcham has exhibited around the country and been chosen for honors including a New York Foundation for the Arts grant and a residency at the famous Yaddo artist community in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. He currently lives in Queens, N.Y.

City Paper: Could you tell me how you developed your particular combination of stop-motion animation and painting?

Jason Mitcham: As a painter with no background in film or video, the move to stop-motion animation with painting was the simplest format that I could think of to make a moving image and tell a narrative. It was a really steep learning curve for me on the technology side. I’m still really a novice when it comes to video editing, although I have become proficient in what I need. I like it existing that way because it lets the painting process drive the end result.

CP: What's your process like? It seems incredibly time-consuming — have you always been very detail-oriented in your art?
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JM: It is very time consuming, but it’s really just the nature of the process. I’m actually a very fast painter, and in the past would finish decent-sized paintings in a day or so. I actually think my speed as a painter has allowed me to work in this process, which is very intense both physically and mentally. To began an animation I securely mount the painting on a wall, and fix a camera on a tripod in the middle of the studio. I then begin to make slight changes on the painting, moving back and forth between the painting and the camera, documenting the changes. This can last anywhere from a week to a number of months depending on the length of the video. The more moving parts there are, the longer it takes.

CP: What do you find intriguing about the man-made landscape?
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JM: I look at the landscape as a palimpsest, created by the intersection of geography, history, culture and politics. Any landscape is constantly in a state of flux, often caught in a struggle of competing interests, and I try to mine that tension as an artist. Recently I have been focused on sites of modern ruins where the landscape evokes a failed or abandoned history. Places like Detroit show just how quickly culture can rise and fall in our modern era.

CP: Are there any other themes, ideas, or mediums that you're interested in exploring next?

JM: I’m working with notions of mapping right now, and I’d like to apply that to intersections of geographically and temporally diverse sites. Currently I’m investigating moments of overlay between Pripyat and Pruitt-Igoe, the former an abandoned city created by the Chernobyl disaster, and the latter a failed public housing complex in St. Louis, Missouri. This will most likely be a mix of painting, stop-motion painting animation, and photographic collage work.


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