The renowned Halcyon gallery recently showcased the hauntingly beautiful works of celebrated British artist, Mitch Griffiths. A self-taught artist, Griffiths is inspired by the Old Masters to create photorealistic oil paintings that are dramatic and emotionally charged. His work features elegant figures draped in the UK and American flags in order to address the role of “first world” countries within a global context.
While interpretations may vary based on a viewer’s personal experience and nationality, the “message” behind most of his work is quite clear. In his “Ransom” series, a woman is wrapped in the American flag with oil dripping from her mouth, a clear commentary on the relationship between first-world countries and war-stricken oil territories. “Call of Duty”, a series inspired by the famous video game, explores the mainstream glorification of violence and war. Even the exhibition’s title “‘Enduring Freedom”, is the operational title the US government has given their ‘War on Terror’. Bottom line, Giffiths wants to open viewers eyes to modern global issues.
In light of the Paris attacks and today’s security concern across the world, Griffiths’ work is more timely than ever. We recently sat down with the artist to learn more about his political stance, his inspirations, and creative process.
AR: How long did you work on this new group of paintings?
MG: This body of work took about 2 years to complete. I try to make the themes immediate yet also timeless. It can be tricky trying to paint a strongly cohesive exhibition when it takes that long to produce it. So many things can happen in the world in that time.
AR: Most of your work features the UK and American flags...with what has been happening in Europe for the past month or so, have you thought about painting any other country that could be as controversial?
MG: Well, I use the UK flag because I’m British and the concept of national identity (be it positive or negative), interests me. I used the US flag in this show as it is the most visible, transparent country.
AR: Some of your paintings have a religious quality to them, others are more political. Do you ever censor yourself? Have you ever had a “oh maybe I shouldn’t ” kind of moment?
MG: l question and censor myself all the time. As an artist, I’m constantly walking that tightrope between narcism and self-doubt. There is a half completed painting in my studio now that was supposed to go in the last show. Halfway through I just thought “nope, this is too near the knuckle”.
AR: Why and how do you choose your models?
Mitch Griffiths: My work is idea led so, the idea comes first then I set about finding the models which I think will suit and make it come to life in some way. It’s very rare for me to see a person and think, “I must paint them!”. My process for choosing models changes all the time. Sometimes it can be friends or family, or friends of friends. Social media helps quite a bit. I get lots of people wanting to be in my work now so, I get a quite a few messages.
AR: I read that you were a self-taught painter. Tell me how you made it into the art world?
MG: I went to college where they did art courses and did graphic design and illustration. Later I taught myself to oil paint through trial and error really. I entered the BP Portrait Award in 2001 and managed to get my work accepted for the show and it was chosen for the promotional poster. Then I exhibited in 2003 and 2004, which was huge exposure.
Back in 2003, my wife (then girlfriend) and I were in London and I wanted to show her Halycon Gallery, my favorite in London. We walked in and the lady behind the desk asked if I was an artist and if I had a book she could see (yes I know, this NEVER happens. Ask any artist.)
I left my little photo book with her while we walked around the gallery. After a few moments the gallery assistant ran up to us, pointing to a photo of my painting that was used for the Portrait award poster asked if I painted it. I replied yes and she said “we’ve been looking for you”. I’ve been represented by them ever since.
AR: Do you work on other forms of art? Sculpture, video, photography, etc…
MG: I work from my own photographic reference as well as from life so, I’m always clicking away. I’ve done a bit of sculpture and video but, my painting is so time consuming and I want to devote all my work time to that to see how far I can go with it.
AR: Your style combines a traditional form of painting with current modern-world issues, how did you come up with this style?
MG: It wasn’t a conscious decision to come up with a style. I had always wanted to work in a representation manner with narrative. The themes I paint are just ones which interest me.