It’s not hyperbolic to say that Canberra artist Harriet Mitchell is both incredibly talented and incredibly young. Last year, at eighteen years old, Mitchell won the Young Archibald prize with a portrait of her six-year-old sister, Romy, sitting for the portrait in what as Mitchell describes as “a rare moment of stillness.” Since winning the young Archies, Mitchell has held two exhibitions which speaks to the breadth and depth of her work and to the level of interest in it. The first was held Canberra Grammar School’s gallery late last year; she currently has a show at Strathnairn, out on the western edge of the A.C.T.
Many of Mitchell’s subjects are domestic and it’s this quiet familiarity which makes her works so appealing: backyard chickens that look ready to scratch up gardens; a sausage dog, twisting as she sleeps in the sun; still lives of fruits that despite their exoticness (lychees, passion fruit, pomegranates) speak of an everyday middle-class Australian supermarket; and my favourite – a moment where the chickens and Daphne the sausage dog wait at the back door steps beside a stack of milk crates.
The oils that Mitchell paints with also draw the viewer in. They demonstrate her remarkable technical command, and the depth and density of her works. The paintings are rich with paint but by no means are they garish or saturated – there’s always control behind their application. Mitchell renders tea towels with rough linen crumples; her red cabbage is laced with a spider-work of firm veins.
While Mitchell’s technical prowess is deeply impressive, the portraits – another of Romy, one of a child, “Daisy” and a self-portrait of where she holds “Daffodil” (a fierce, beaky chicken who is clearly descended from dinosaurs) – are where her greatest achievements lie. The subjects engage the viewer, each sitters’ confidence causing pause. That is, the portraits are raw and real; the two blemishes on Mitchell’s skin speak of her mature and confident determination to use art to render life as it is, not as how one would necessarily like it to be.
It’s a small collection of paintings that Mitchell exhibits at Strathnairn, but each has richness – both in execution and in theme. While Mitchell’s chicken Daffodil fixes viewers with her sharp eye, people interested in art should get out to Strathnairn to stare right back.
Paintings by Harriet Mitchell are showing until Feb 21st.