ARTIST PROFILE + INTERVIEW: Samantha Dylan Mitchell

(Author's Note: This interview was also published on Printeresting here!)

Artist Profile

Samantha Dylan Mitchell is a local Philadelphia-area artist who specializes in works on paper.  She makes intricately detailed drawings and prints inspired by tight, twisted and tangled natural forms, creating pieces that juxtapose both powerful tension and a languorous sense of flow and rhythm.  Her use of texture is  astounding.  I caught up with her over email after being struck by her contribution to PAFA's In with the New, which I reviewed here.

She will be featured in an upcoming show opening April 25th, which will take place in PAFA's Alumni Gallery.
Moon. Drawing.

Artist Interview

I On the Arts:  How did you get started making art?  What is your background and training?

Samantha Dylan Mitchell: I always liked taking notes either by drawing or writing, and those are things that I've done since I was really young. I grew up in New York and as a kid I spent a lot of time after school at the Museum of Natural History drawing dinosaur skeletons on a clip board. I went to Oberlin College with the intention of being a writing or Russian major but ended up being much more involved with the art department. After a few years of moving around a lot [and] doing freelance work in videography and illustration, I went to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts for an MFA because I wanted time to completely immerse myself in making art again. 

IOtA: What subjects most inspire you in your practice?

SDM: Rocks and knots. I like looking at things that are falling apart and/or coming together. I spent some time working with a paleobiologist in the Utah desert and I think about that landscape a great deal. In newer work I've been dealing more with my immediate surroundings in Philadelphia, looking to recycling dumps and dilapidated structures and the weird landscape of urban decay.
Untitled. Mixed media on sheet metal, 2010

IOtA: What artists or teachers have been most influential to you?

SDM: In high school I had a teacher named Angelo. He used to read to us while we were painting -- mostly folk tales -- and it forced us all to not over-think our work, to concentrate on two things simultaneously and develop a flow. I spend most of my time in the studio listening to books on tape.

Artists I look to a lot are Vija Celmins and Joseph Yoakum, who take on the idea of land in different but equally engaging ways. I like thinking about how both of these artist work and how they manipulate imagery. The material fluidity that Celmins takes on, re-creating similar subject matter in different media, is fascinating and inspiring to me. At the same time, Yoakum's economy with media, using ball-point pens and colored pencil to develop maps and landscapes from memory, create a signature language of texture that communicate a clear sense of experience.

IOtA: When did you realize that you’d “made it” as an artist?

SDM: I don't think anyone ever "makes it" in an objective sense. If you're lucky you're forever making it. 
Rose Tangle. Drawing.

IOtA: What has been your proudest moment as an artist?

SDM: As an undergraduate I made a series called "Our Autonomy," six 3 x 5 foot portraits of psychoanalysts ––my parents and their colleagues––and I had the opportunity to exhibit them in conjunction with an analytic conference in Tel Aviv. I liked being able to bring the work to a new environment, and to be seen in a context specific to its subject, not simply in a gallery. The series was my first fully realized project, where concept, execution, and exhibition all coalesced in a satisfying way. 

IOtA: What has been your most challenging or frustrating moment as an artist?

SDM: Figuring out how to validate my practice to myself is a constant struggle, especially because I don't want my need to earn a living to interfere with my studio practice, either to effect the way I work or to eliminate the time I have in the studio. Making art and living in the world is a hustle. I feel fortunate to have found teaching jobs that engage my interests, but employment as an artist -- either as an adjunct, a freelancer, or working a day job unrelated to the arts -- is tenuous.  
Caves. Etching.

IOtA: What media do you use?  How did you pick the media you use now?

SDM: For the past few years I've been primarily working on paper, using watercolor, gouache, and ink. At PAFA I started getting into printmaking, mainly etchings and woodblock prints. I like that you can print with woodblocks without using a press, and I've been into tiling blocks to make big prints on rolls of paper. 

I'd like to say that I'm very mindful of the materials I use, but I often end up with scavenged paper and paint and use whatever is at hand. Jobs at schools and art supply stores have kept me flush with discarded and surplus supplies, and my studio is full of unlabeled bottles and scraps. A fair amount of planning goes into my work, particularly the prints, but I like to keep the ball rolling. 

IOtA: What do you hope people who see your work take away from it?

SDM: On a very basic level, I want people to engage with the work both from close up and at a distance. Many of my pieces take on an extreme level of detail in the tactility of my subjects in an attempt to deal with them on a microscopic level, to the extent that is possible. Looking at things this way gives matter a kind of infinite identity, and I'd like this feeling to be visceral for those looking at my work.


  1. rattlesnake speedway in the utah desert... Xlnt!!

  2. I love the detail of these works! Beautiful!


Post a Comment