After recently indulging in some dim sum on Dundas street I took a spring stroll and headed towards the 401 Richmond Building. Located next to the TIFF Bell Lightbox, the refurbished industrial building houses galleries and studios. There I encountered Open Studio, an artist run center dedicated to the making and promotion of contemporary fine art prints. To my surprise, I was unable to resist going in and visiting Cynthia Dinan-Mitchell’s latest show Mood Lighting, which was exhibited in its gallery space from March 23rd to April 21st.
Like a moth to a flame, the luscious, sparkling colors, beckoned me. There, I found silk-screened and subsequently hand painted prints that have such a lush quality I was immediately drawn into their low-lit world.
As I entered the gallery space, the first thing that caught my attention was a wall entirely covered with a chocolate brown, honeycomb patterned paper where a large work was hung Dinan-Mitchell is conscious of the environment where her works are shown, and often exhibits her single-edition prints as part of installations that include other objects and elaborate decors. Here, in the gallery’s white cube, Dinan-Mitchell broke the dynamic of the clinical gallery space by presenting a central piece, Blinded Falcon (2018)
The dramatic inclusion of a gallery wall covered in a dark tapestry contributes to enhancing the chiaroscuro lighting effect Dinan-Mitchell explores in her prints. Contrary to her previous pieces, I find she has chosen to depict her subjects in high contrasts. Her use of lighting recalls the work of later 18th-century English painter Joseph Wright of Derby.
Like Wright, who depicted technological innovations of the day lighting up their surrounding subjects, Dinan-Mitchell’s light sources are also evidently man-made. In her works, find a whole slew of varying types of lamps, bulbs and spot lights, that act as luminous origins lighting their surroundings. When these electrical devices are considered alongside the skulls she includes, such as in Feathers and Flora (2018), these are no longer engines of artificial lighting but instead like signs warning of man’s destruction of nature.
At first the works appear deceptively decorative, due to their ornamental arrangements, but the amalgams of symbols and art historical references play off each other. I could not escape the allusion to Dutch vanitas paintings.
Like Golden Age Dutch still life painters, Dinan-Mitchell has a similar visual vocabulary that also includes skulls, fruits, birds, flowers and symbols of time passing, as in Pink Petals (2017). And, like these Dutch masters, Dinan-Mitchell also makes use of symbols to emphasize life’s ephemeral quality. There is a juxtaposition of the objects that allude to man’s intervention in the natural order of things.
Typically, Dutch still life paintings portray objects arranged on a table in a manner that each is seen and credibly placed. Dinan-Mitchell similarly brings together elements that intertwine with one another in her artwork in order to compose a new ornamental structure.
An oasis of calm, serenity and quiet awe, I greatly enjoyed my time at Cynthia Dinan-Mitchell’s Mood Lighting at Open Studio.