These terra cotta figurines, coated in thick layers of porcelain slip, reflect influences from many sculptural traditions: Pre-Columbian, Blanc de Chine, Haniwa, Chinese and Egyptian Tomb tableaux, Old English Pew Groups, and even Hummel statuettes.
The cast of characters comprises a range of blue-collar workers: fishermen, bakers, garbage men, and green grocers. Most of the portraits are frontal, somewhat in the style of early 20th century portrait photographer August Sanders. Like Hummel figurines, each man holds a prop or a tool of his trade: the carpenter’s hammer, food (apples, fish and bread, salt) or a drink, such as beer or wine. Here the mundane tasks shift into symbolic actions. They remind me of the ritual of the Mass, which in return recalls the Last Supper. These associations with scenes from the life of Jesus, while loosely drawn, are persistent and so need to be softened and blurred with heavy white wash and diurnal scenes.
Jeffry Mitchell was born in 1958, the fourth of nine children of working-class parents. After experiencing a largely itinerant childhood owing to his father’s career, Mitchell continued this nomadic lifestyle in his young adulthood. Although his family eventually established a somewhat permanent residency in Seattle, he decided to attend the University of Dallas in Irving, Texas, and spent a semester in Rome, an experience that had a profound effect on his work. After graduating with a BA in painting, Mitchell moved to Japan to teach English and landed an apprenticeship with a production potter in Seto (known as one of the “Six Old Kilns” in traditional Japanese pottery). Impressed and changed by his experiences abroad, Mitchell returned to Seattle in 1984 and enrolled in a printmaking class at the Cornish College of the Arts. This spurred his decision to pursue an MFA in printmaking at the Tyler School of Art, Temple University in Philadelphia. During his studies he returned to Rome, setting up a studio in the basement classrooms at Villa Caproni.
Notable solo exhibitions of Mitchell’s work include: Like a Valentine: The Art of Jeffry Mitchell, 2012-2013, Henry Art Gallery; Some Things and Their Shadows, 2009, Kittredge Gallery, University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, WA; Shiny Happy Pretty (with Tina Hoggatt), 2008, Missoula Art Museum; Hanabuki, 2001, Henry Art Gallery; My Spirit, 1992, New Museum of Contemporary Art, NY; and Documents Northwest: The Poncho Series, 1990, Seattle Art Museum. He is featured in several museum collections, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Philadelphia Art Museum, the Portland Art Museum, and the Seattle Art Museum.