Identifying himself as a “gay folk artist,” Jeffry Mitchell creates work that deals largely with dualities. Using a variety of materials and methods, including ceramics, printmaking, and drawing, Mitchell manages to juxtapose seemingly disparate ideas into beautiful, fragile, and startling works. Using sweet, furry animals and soft, pastel colors, Mitchell transforms kitsch subject matter into a study of complex human experiences, including death, sex, religion, and loss. His work, at times appearing clumsy and hand-wrought, remains approachable and innocent, engaging viewers with his child-like curiosity and ungainly re-creations of recognized subjects. While highly sophisticated in his technique, Mitchell chooses to display vulnerability in his work, allowing both himself and his viewers to negotiate frightening realities by couching them in the comfort of the familiar and a faith in innocence. His work is suffused with a desire to welcome, accept, and even love the disconcerting and flawed aspects of ourselves and others.
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. (from the Henry Art Gallery website)