Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Spirit Catcher

Spirit Catcher

By Tom Wachunas

It’s been a very long time since I’ve encountered art so deliciously precise and moving in its capacity to draw out the very core of a person or place as that of Dean Mitchell. His show of 40 paintings at the Canton Museum of Art, called “Dean Mitchell: Space, People & Places,” is more than merely evocative. His watercolors are painterly embodiments of spirit - an ineffable architecture of life essences. While some comparisons to Andrew Wyeth are unavoidable, Mitchell’s astonishing brush work is a stand-alone signature, and the sultry white sunlight so prevalent in these visions, coupled with their gentle loneliness, is uniquely Southern.

There’s not a single work here that isn’t somehow stunning either for its technical excellence or its emotional resonance. More often than not, both of those aspects are conveyed with simmering élan. His compelling portraits of street musicians isolated on all-white (or nearly so) grounds, as in “Gulf Water Blues” or “Bongo Drummer” for example, are more sculpted than drawn into being. While their poses effectively capture their contemplative, sometimes weary hearts, you can still practically hear their music.

That same sense of sheer aliveness emanates from the sun drenched buildings that Mitchell paints. Some, like “Deer Skin” and “Preservation Hall” are dappled with rhythmic, sumptuous shadows that seem to dance across the structures’ walls. In all of his architectural renderings, Mitchell’s textures and physical detail embellishments are delightfully rich without being flashy, cold exercises in hyper-realism. Structures with souls, structures that speak. Even in their varying states of disrepair, or neglect from poverty they, like his portraits, are imbued with a dignity that is quietly heroic.

For all of his truly masterful technique – his impeccable sense of composition, his thrilling dexterity of touch, his fluent handling of subtle, earthy tonalities that appear to breathe right before your eyes – it would appear that Mitchell doesn’t just paint his subjects. He loves them. And in turn, it seems impossible for us as viewers not to do the same.

Photo: “Living on the Streets,” watercolor by Dean Mitchell, on view in “Dean Mitchell: Space, People & Places,” at the Canton Museum of Art, inside the Cultural Center for the Arts at 1001 Market Avenue North, Canton, through March 6, 2011. Gallery hours are 10 a.m to 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday / 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday and Friday / 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday / 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday (Closed Monday).

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