THE ART OF HERstory EXHIBITION OPENS IN BEDFORD-STUYVESANT
Artist Lizbeth Mitty Evokes Memories of Places I've Never Even Seen
Out of the recent tech-craze there has arisen a debate as to whether there still exists a definitive line between “high culture” (eg, fine art) and “low culture” (eg, pop culture). Historically, the distinction was clear-cut, and grounded in the connotations universally ascribed to each term, wherein “high culture” was considered “good”, and “low culture”, “bad”. Fortunately, much of the literature today contends that these assumptions are outdated, and that “pop culture”, by any definition, is as worthy of analysis and appreciation as, say, fine art. The Renegade Review, in fact, is founded on this very principle.
Once we abscond with these traditional connotations and turn a critical eye toward pop culture, the original question, Is there a distinction? seems less relevant to our modern society, than those that presuppose there is, in fact, a distinction, but which inspire a dialogue among academics and enthusiasts alike – questions like, What is the relationship between fine art and pop culture?, What drives the “popularity” of a specific artifact, and what does this say about individual vs societal values?
We can begin to address these questions by taking a look at the art scene in Manhattan. Nine years ago, an artist’s success was determined not so much by the merit of his/her work, but upon whether the work satisfied what the art galleries designated as worthy at that point in time. These institutions colored the landscape of fine art by generating a demand for their product within their target community, ie, the wealthy. The galleries stood to benefit from perpetuating the distinction between fine art and pop culture as they were traditionally defined; after all, what the galleries offered was available only to the discerning few – not the average person.
Ironically, in many ways the art scene in Manhattan represented a “pop” sub-culture. The galleries cultivated popularity by generating hype around certain artists or types of art. What was popular was ever in flux, geared toward a specific demographic, and designed for commercial consumption.
It was difficult for many established NY artists to achieve visibility in this kind of environment. But some, like Lizbeth Mitty, sought reprieve from the Manhattan art scene and relocated to Brooklyn. And it turned out to be the perfect place for renegades such as herself – artists who created art on their own terms and were never willing to pander to the expectations of the art community.
At the time of Mitty’s expatriation, Brooklyn’s own art scene was emerging. In this environment, artists like Mitty had a voice again, and their work was recognized for its merit. Individualism was celebrated, and these artists regained their recognition. In contrast to the scene in Manhattan, Brooklyn shows were often artist-run, wherein sensibilities were geared more toward exposure and visibility, and less toward profitability. Art enthusiasts from all walks of life were invited to attend these exhibits, and even encouraged to interface with the artists themselves.
Therefore, within a short period of time since her relocation to Brooklyn 9 years ago, Mitty came to be featured in several one-person shows around Brooklyn. The burgeoning art scene in Brooklyn availed Mitty and artists like her many new and surprising opportunities to exhibit their work and engage with the local art community. Brooklyn provided for a far more nurturing and inclusive environment, which in turn allowed for and even encouraged artistic individualism.
Currently, one of MItty’s more recent pieces is on display at Life in Mars Gallery in Bushwick, as part of the Sideshow on Mars exhibit that runs through January 31st. The piece on display, Twilight Burned House, is from a series she created based on her trip to Detroit.
Twilight Burned House was created more than a year after her visit to Detroit, but she has very avidly captured the feeling she had when she was there.
In fact, Mitty – an established artist renowned for painting the grittier side of old NY – is fascinated with places. Through her work, she seeks to recapture her own experience of that place, at that time, while inviting viewers to enter into her reminiscence, and understand her experience through their own interaction with the painting.
As a painter inspired by places, and a kind of student of architecture in all its forms, Mitty had begun a series a couple of years ago centered around her trip to Barcelona. Her first piece of this series in fact preceded her visit, and must have been triggered by the artist’s imagination, her dreams, her memories. The subject of this first painting of the Barcelona series bears a stunning resemblance to something the artist had never actually seen.
Most recently, Mitty has been involved in creating a number of smaller-scale paintings – a continuation of her Barcelona series, created some time after her return from her trip.
These more recent works explore her experience of Barcelona, during which time she visited numerous cathedrals. What she saw inspired her then, and continues to inspire her today.
Paintings like the one above challenge our grasp of the difference between representational and abstract art. Elements of the painting above strongly suggest that what we discern are recognizable shapes, or identifiable objects from the real world. But her work does tend toward the abstract, and is in fact more a testament to her process than a depiction of the object that served as her inspiration.
Though we can discern in her paintings tangible objects, to describe Mitty as an imagery artist would be inaccurate. In fact, pieces like the one above are created through a layering process, wherein one layer may resemble a work in abstraction; another may introduce bright shades to describe a twilight sky; and another may use hard lines to give the painting a kind of structure.
Mitty exposes different elements from each of the layers to produce the finished piece. Her process involves the “taking away” of portions of the top layer, while “bringing forth” elements from the layers beneath. She uses a number of tools – a scraper, turpentine, oil and wax sticks – to erode or erase (“take away”) portions of the topmost layer, to reveal (“bring forth”) elements of the paint beneath.
Mitty’s process is an intuitive one; she can’t always say what she’s going to do next, or even what she intends to bring forth in that specific moment: “As I’m working, these things just happen.” It’s as if there’s “some voice inside of you, telling you what the next step is”. And, although there may be moments of unsureness, ultimately MItty always finds her way.