Bracebridge: Paper artist, Col Mitchell exhibits an art technique that explores and reawakens magical experiences and remembers iconic childhood interactions with nature's temptations. Through its distinctive process, each piece resolves itself into works as individual as the fingerprint of that experience. Col's influence lies in over twenty formative years of rustic, electricity-absent summers spent cottaging in Algonquin Park.
Look Again: Perception, Imagination and Nature's Magic is a collection of works of pen and ink on sculpted paper, some charged with energy, others tranquil like the deep mysteries of nature herself that will be on display at Muskoka Arts & Crafts’ Chapel Gallery beginning June 27. Visitors to the exhibition will also enjoy the interactive nostalgic and iconic childhood activities Col calls "reminiscing stations," where they can recall or re-enact their own childhood memories.
In January of 2008, serendipity brought Col to her current practice of pen and ink on sculpted paper. "Inspiration struck during a paper on canvas workshop spurring me to deviate from the instruction to deliberately form a recognizable subject; a tree shaped out of a single medium weight sheet with a delicate and judicious application of tissue. I am certain a different use of the paper would not have allowed for the pivotal discovery of material interactions which influence the outcome of every piece,” says Col. “Enchanted, I explored, and continue to explore, my limitations working with pen nibs and their gravity dependant dipping inks and how different papers influenced the outcome.”
It was four years before Col could form a small, three inch bird and another five years before she was able to create her first, furred animal, a piece that went on to win an award.
Three stages are required for each piece Col creates. The first involves manipulating and sculpting a variety of wet and dry papers to create a skeleton. After the surface has dried, layers of acrylic washes are applied. Finally, a pen nib and acrylic inks adds linear details until all three steps merge as one, creating the final fused, cohesive image. “I like that there are elements in my work under limited control. Therefore, for me, that means they offer their own voice or presence to each piece, adding something I could not add on my own. It decidedly makes each piece one-of-a-kind as well as genuinely irreproducible,” explains Col.
“I also began exploring how I fit into this dance of mediums. The final pen and ink stage is especially meditative, and it is there that I found my answers,” explains Col. “It is my memories and experiences I reach for when art making.”
Specifically, the summers Col spent immersed in the magnificent natural surroundings of Algonquin Park, where the too few amenities of the cottage her grandfather built in 1931 on Smoke Lake meant nature had a stronger presence than anything did. Without electricity, television or cell phones to entertain, Col and her siblings invented games to play on both land and water. “We spent time being still and enveloped in lush expansive views, or crouched in intense contemplation of tiny life forms or fauna; tickled or bitten by insects; entranced or startled by sound; buffeted or soothed by wind; and warmed or burned by sun,” Col recalls.
Col hopes that visitors to her first solo exhibition will experience a sense of wonder. “The kind of wonder I speak of is that wonder defined in the dictionary as ‘a felling of surprise, mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable’. Our natural world offers this, and more,” Col clarifies. “Childhood interactions with nature begin as significantly wondrous and we hold those memories dear, though our perception of them changes as we age. It is my hope the viewer re-experiences feelings or memories of intimate and meaningful interactions with nature, captured during childhood when those experiences were more wondrous than common.”
In February of this year, Col received an exhibition assistance grant from the Ontario Arts Council. She attributes her successful application to the Toronto-based group, Work in Culture, the Town of Huntsville, and Muskoka Arts & Crafts for hosting and organizing a New Opportunities for Artists Workshop, which offered individualized coaching on tourism marketing strategies and grantsmanship.
An award-winning contemporary paper artist, Col’s work has been featured in Times Square, New York City; the 2010 G8/G20 Summit Media Centre, Toronto; online and print magazines; art publications; popular art blogs; and juried global exhibitions.
Look Again opens with a reception of Friday, June 26 from 4pm until 8pm. The exhibition continues until July 18. Col will be at the Chapel Gallery demonstrating her art on Saturday, July 4 and Saturday, July 18 from 10:30am to 1pm and from 2pm until 5pm.
The Chapel Gallery is located at 15 King Street in Bracebridge. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday, from 10am to 1pm and from 2pm until 5pm with admission by donation. For more information, please visit www.muskokaartsandcrafts.com or call (705) 645-5501.