Emory Report
February 19, 2007
Volume 59, Number 20

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February 19, 2007
Interweavings: A Conversation with Katherine Mitchell

In October 2006, Katherine Mitchell, an artist on the faculty of the Emory Visual Arts Program, and Rosemary Magee, vice president and secretary of Emory, talked about art and life as Mitchell prepared for her current retrospective at City Gallery East in Atlanta. The following is excerpted from their conversation:

ROSEMARY MAGEE : When did you first start to think of yourself as an artist?

KATHERINE MITCHELL : I think I was always moving in that direction. As a child, I drew all the time. Growing up in the South, one did not see a lot of paintings. But Memphis did have a small museum, which brought an extraordinary exhibition that included a Philip Guston painting, and it completely stunned me. I mean, this really incredible revelation -- it felt like the meaning of life.

MAGEE: How does teaching affect your work?  

MITCHELL: Sometimes I can see a point at which things really begin to come together for [the student]. That is a very exciting thing to witness in a student, and the student senses it, too ... it certainly is one of the things that keeps one teaching. ...

MAGEE: How do you come to know and select the color for your work?

MITCHELL: It's very much a felt thing. When I was a student and in the early, early work, I was looking at what I called nominal color, by which I mean color that one could name, by name -- red, blue and yellow. Then I began working with what I call color temperature. Later ... I worked with color based on nature, which was very soft and delicate.  

MAGEE: How would you describe your choice of materials?

MITCHELL: I like using traditional materials a little bit differently than they are intended. ... The architectural works are pastel, which is usually very soft. You think about the Impressionists using pastels, and you don't think about geometry and very precise forms with them.

MAGEE: When people ask you to describe your work, to categorize it, what do you say?

MITCHELL: Usually "abstract and geometric" best describe my work. However, I also think it's important to spend a lot of time being not quite sure what you're doing ... when responsiveness to diversions or detours is particularly likely to be important.   There is a quotation from Philip Guston that I often use in teaching: "We [the Abstract Expressionists] painted what we didn't know." I like the idea of not following the path or plan, but of creating one's own. ... The distillation of form from experience is what's important. Rilke talks about "blood-remembering" from which comes poetry. It's about layers of memory and layers of experience -- not the superficial memory of what happened yesterday, but how those layers really become who you are and enter your life, and then come out.

The full text of Interweavings is available at http://visualarts.emory.edu/faculty.

Katherine Mitchell: A Retrospective, 1974-2006 is on view through March 16 at City Gallery East, 675 Ponce de Leon Avenue NE, Atlanta. A conversation between Mitchell and Magee will be held on Feb. 28 at 6:30 p.m. at City Gallery East.