Artists on Coping: John Mitchell

During the Coronavirus pandemic, Art Spiel is reaching out to artists to learn how they are coping.

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John Mitchell at work on “Twinkle”, oil on linen, 37×80”. Photo by Twinkle Ghangas, Tuesday, January 14, 2020.

John Mitchell, born 1971 in Southern Illinois, is an American artist. As a draftsman, printmaker, and painter, Mitchell works from direct observation of people, places, and things. He was educated at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Yale University. Mitchell lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

AS: How are you coping?

JM: Sleeping more than usual, watching movies, and cooking. I’ve been enjoying trying new recipes and ideas with combinations of ingredients and eating healthy. Plus spending a lot of time texting, emailing, video chatting, and on the phone with friends and family. The most cathartic part of every isolation day is going outside at 7 PM and cheering for the heroic healthcare and essential workers who are risking their lives daily for the rest of us.

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Larry Fessenden, Wednesday November 13, 2019, oil on linen, 18×14”

AS: Has your routine changed?

JM: Yes. Since my last show at Planthouse Gallery in Fall 2018, I’ve been focused on a new group of paintings, drawings, and prints of people from life. Normally, a sitter comes to the studio six nights per week. Tuesday nights, two people come. My Tuesday night painting in progress is of Alix Bailey making a painting of Garrett Swann. Then on Saturday nights, I go to my friend Kym Moon’s place in Bedstuy. I’ve been working on a painting of her in her bathtub. Being in quarantine means that nobody can come to the studio and I can’t go to Kym’s for the foreseeable future. So this whole group of people paintings is on hold. I’m also working on a series of twelve paintings of the glass block window in my guest room. I am still working on those.

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Garrett and Alix, oil on linen, 74×90” (studio view detail of the painting in progress), Wednesday, October 16, 2019

AS: Can you describe some of your feelings about all this?

JM: It’s devastating. Three people close to my friend-group have died as of today, April 12th. I’m concerned about other potential disasters overlapping this current crisis, like tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes and wild fires. There’s the constant sound of ambulance sirens. I hear a siren in the distance right now. I keep thinking about the healthcare workers who are trying to help critically ill COVID19 patients and what it must be like for them. I was delivering groceries to a sick friend last weekend and drove past Wyckoff Hospital and saw the big white freezer trailers parked outside. The idea of those huge freezer trailers full of people who died from COVID19 is stuck in my head.

I’m worried about my parents and all parents. Worried about people in prisons and nursing homes. Worried about what damage this is going to do to our art-world ecosystem. How many galleries are we going to lose? How will our museums survive? How many great restaurants, bookstores, art supply stores, and other wonderful small businesses are we going to lose? How many of our fellow artists and people in general are barely making it out there right now? Think of everyone who has shows up in galleries that are closed. Theaters and our great music venues are closed. It’s awful. I feel terribly anxious and concerned but also hopeful.

I wake up to a cacophony of birds chirping and singing in the garden next door every morning. The air is so fresh. Spring is in the air but it also feels like Mother Nature is grinning in all our faces. If we all dropped dead tomorrow, the birds would still sing and the flowers would still bloom.

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This glass block window in Mitchell’s guest room with fractured view of the garden next door is the subject of a series of twelve “Window” paintings in progress, one for each of the twelve months of the year. Photo by the artist, February 2020.

AS: What matters most right now?

JM: We all have to do our part and take this seriously. We have to follow guidelines issued by our leading medical societies until there is a vaccine and medicine for COVID19.

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February Window, 2015, oil on linen, 36×36” , photo by Cary Whittier

AS: Any thoughts about the road ahead?

JM: I’m looking forward to getting past COVID19 and resuming nightly painting session hangouts with friends, studio visits, and being able to visit art galleries and museums again. I’m looking forward to quality time with the people I miss. Until then, it’s one day at a time.

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Melencholia, 2016-17, oil on linen, 56×40”, photo by Cary Whittier

Etty Yaniv works on her art, art writing and curatorial projects in Brooklyn. She founded Art Spiel as a platform for highlighting the work of contemporary artists, including art reviews, studio visits, interviews with artists, curators, and gallerists. For more details contact by Email: