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Sam Mitchell


“an obsessive drive to create images” (1)

A sassy and subversive bricolage of rescued materials, painting media and eccentric imagery are utilised by painter Sam Mitchell to explore the potency of pictures. Toucans, parrots, budgerigars, canaries and cats populate her paintings as do the busts of human subjects ranging from Nancy Mitford to Michael Jackson.

Discoloured, dog-eared endpages torn from decommissioned library books and other discarded volumes provide support for Mitchell’s simple yet poignant watercolours. Carefully inked scenes and domestic animals are traced onto aged paper with simple washes and finely painted and monochromatic outlines. Geriatric

and degenerate owners dabbling in a spot of Sunday-painting are evoked by Mitchell’s watercolours which depict domestic pets sometimes uttering obscenities. Mills and Boon like fantasies, awkward social situations and history-book illustrations are also captured, seeming more like cathartic teenage doodles. More recent experimentation has seen Mitchell digitally reproduce editions of old sepia-toned studio photographic portraits and carefully paint details over them in watercolours.

Mitchell also paints in acrylic on perspex, a technically demanding medium that dictates that works must be painted backwards and in reverse. The results of this virtuosic process are slick and glossy, Mitchell uses lurid, high-key flesh tones and leaves the backgrounds transparent so that her figures seem to float upon the walls behind them. The designs with which Mitchell desecrates her portrait busts quote the tattoo-parlour vernacular of scrolls, skulls, hearts as well as more surprising imagery such as nude women lifted from 1960s men’s magazines, pornographic imaginings, colonial events, religious imagery and tender teenage drawings of ponies and pop-music lyrics. Both rehabilitated paper and difficult perspex provide limitations and parameters within which Mitchell experiments, creating incongruous imagery on forlorn paper and commercial plastic.

Acerbic and irreverent, Mitchell explores the tension between rebellion and propriety, transgression and etiquette- canaries swear like sailors and young boys are coated in obscene tattoos. Rigorous technique is combined with comic vignettes and prickly portraits from the inside out, undermining duplicitous social masks and exposing inner desires.


Sam Mitchell (1971) currently lives and works in Auckland and completed her Masters at the Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland, in 2000. Since then she has exhibited works nationally and internationally in private galleries as well as public art institutions. Recent solo exhibitions include: Meet (with Gavin Hurley, Melanie Roger Gallery, 2015), There is a crack in everything that lets the light in (Southland Art Museum, Invercargill, 2014) and One of us cannot be wrong (Melanie Roger Gallery, 2014). Mitchell has received many prestigious awards for her work including the Paramount Award at the Wallace Art Awards (2010) allowing a six-month residency at the International Studio and Curatorial Programme in New York. Recent residencies have included the William Hodges Fellowship in Invercargill in 2014 and the Tylee Cottage Residency with the Sarjeant Gallery in Whanganui in 2015. She will be exhibiting recent work at the Sarjeant Gallery in late 2016 and will exhibit new work at Melanie Roger Gallery in late August.

For additional information and a complete CV please contact the gallery.

(1) Warwick Brown, Seen This Century: 100 Contemporary New Zealand Artists. A Collector’s Guide (Random House New Zealand: Auckland, 2009), p. 284.