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Studio of Mitch Henson

by Dale Youngman

“As a full-time working professional artist, I have grown into the “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” philosophy of what is, or is not, art. I believe if something created increases the value of someone’s experience of living, that is art. And of course, art is all around us in that way. The simple power of increasing the value of life I think comes from a higher calling. Once someone believes they have arrived as an artist, I think there is an inner obligation to nurture that and continue producing in order to further enhance their own life and that of others. When art brings forth happiness and adds beauty to the world, that, I think, is the result of a higher calling. I know I feel that way about my own life, that this is my purpose.”
 
Mitch Henson was born in Woodruff, South Carolina, in January of 1972. He lived in that small town for 18 years as an only child, finding his solitary enjoyment in creating things. He would draw on the envelopes in church, dig red clay out of the riverbanks to create little sculptures, and otherwise amuse himself by “making stuff.” His grandparents kept egg cartons, string, masking tape, paper and pencils handy for him to make things. His active imagination kept him drawing through high school, creating dramatic sketches of characters from comic strips, superheroes, and Halloween favorites Dracula, Frankenstein and The Wolf Man. Encouraged by family and mentored by early art teachers, his artistic talents were noticed, and he was recommended to the gifted art program, which led to him to receive an art scholarship at the nearby College of Charleston.
 
“After MTV came along in Junior High School, I turned to drawing things from music videos, particularly Duran Duran and Grace Jones. By then, I kinda figured it wasn’t a phase in my childhood. My first acrylic painting was a portrait of Grace Jones. The reference was a dark silhouette with a few lit features of her face with slightly glowing eyes. I am still influenced by music and pop culture; in fact, I have several pieces in mind that are inspired by 1980’s music videos and the culture of that time period.“
 
Following graduation, Henson spent a year in Costa Rica surfing and “attempting” to learn Spanish. However, his interest in the fine art world required exploring, and he decided he needed to live in a more vibrant and art-centric city. Drawn by the large number of high-end galleries, the energetic rock music scene, and of course the surfing conditions, he moved to Los Angeles in 2005. He enrolled at Santa Monica College, taking graphic design classes to learn Photoshop and Illustrator, which gave him extra skills and opened additional doors for employment, including some time creating graphics and advertising for Trader Joe’s.
 
Years of living near and enjoying water have made it his most important and long-standing muse, from earliest childhood vacations to his life in LA. His love of the SoCal beach lifestyle is evident in his newest series “Perpetual Summer,” a series that focuses on surf culture and features the unique lifeguard stations along the Santa Monica and Venice coastline.
 
“I was always by pools, near the ocean, or by lakes with my parents on vacation as a child. There’s something about the environment along with the weather of Florida that makes me want to portray that vibe in my work. The Art Deco styling of the South Beach area of Miami really gets my creative juices flowing. The feeling is festive, carefree, and relaxing. There are a lot of pastel colors next to the sandy beach which I love to feature along with the turquoise and brilliant blues of the ocean and the sky. That is what I want to capture, as well as the beauty of the Pacific coastline and its own iconic imagery. Like the Beach Boys said, “Catch a wave and you’re sitting on top of the world!”
 
Having his work featured in more galleries has been a big goal for Mitch. Recent shows have focused on the Perpetual Summer series, but there is more depth to the artist than his love of surfing. Growing up hearing his parents play rock ‘n’ roll, his love of music has also been inspirational in his work. MTV was huge during that time, and as a teenager, Mitch absorbed it all, including other elements of 1980’s art and pop culture.


 
One of the best-known and most recognizable artists of the 1980s was Patrick Nagel. As the artist whose iconic illustrative-style imagery exemplified minimalism in color and line, he became synonymous with that era, and was widely used in commercial applications. Mitch says Nagel is the artist he would most like to exhibit with, admiring the clean aesthetic of his work and how he made that his unique signature style. The Nagel technique of minimizing an image down to a few precise fine lines and defined shapes with a limited color palette is a style that Mitch has occasionally adapted to his own work. Doing “more with the minimum,” it is easy to see how that style and Nagel’s subject matter could match well with the festive summer vibe and pop art mood of Henson’s own work. 
 
Other artists that he admires are Egon Schiele and Leon Bakst, but his favorite living artist is Shepard Fairey.
 
“I have been mostly inspired by Shepard Fairey, another artist whose work is immediately recognizable with a style that is uniquely his own. The biased part of that reason is that he is from South Carolina like me. In that environment, he could have so easily gone into another direction and have never become the famous and influential artist that he is today. Skating and music were two elements that guided him through art to be something bigger; those were also key inspirations and loves of mine. But what I really love is how he chooses thoughtful, positive subject matter with all intentions of bettering the world and sharing optimistic and hopeful messages. I really admire him for that.”
 
Developing one’s own signature style takes years of work, but Mitch is well on his way, although still considered an “emerging artist” with only a few shows under his belt. Utilizing a well-developed hand honed through years of graphic design work, his paintings blend figurative realistic elements with the surreal, often distorted with a warped perspective, as if looking at an image through a fish-eye lens.
 
“The first part of the process is identifying the image that has made an impression in my memory. If it haunts me enough, I know I have to paint it. But then I have to twist it somehow, apply my own unrealistic perspectives to it to warp its reality. I play with angles, proportions, and depths. I get the drawing the way I want it and apply it to the canvas or wood. I do a lot of blending, whether I am working with acrylics, oils, or spray paint to create some blurred effects. The meaning is usually to evoke a tranquil positive vibe derived from a vacation scene or an MTV pop video. There is almost always a human as the subject matter, where their tranquil facial expression sets the mood in a distorted environment.”
 
Balancing time between two homes (a new house in Vegas and an apartment in LA), Mitch insists on finding the time to paint nearly every day. Eager to stretch his wings and broaden his subject matter for future exhibitions, he is expanding his other series featuring interesting people, tattoo art, car culture and subtle political innuendo. With his wife Lisa, a very talented Juilliard-trained violinist and producer for multiple international entertainment projects, Mitch is always on the lookout for new inspiration. The dual-creative family enjoys exploring neighborhoods on their customized scooters (equipped with “mobile cocktails”), stand-up comedy, hiking, and searching out unique restaurants and diners. Life is more than a day at the beach, although in Mitch’s mind, it is always “perpetual summer.”
 
Mitch’s new work is available through the ArtExcellence Gallery, Click Here.

 

_________________________________

Author Dale Youngman is an independent art curator, fine art dealer, marketing consultant and art writer, working to facilitate the flow of art in Southern California. She currently consults with artists, galleries, interior designers, non-profits, and a new art platform to advance business for everyone in the art world. She has twice been honored by the LA Mayor’s Office with “Certificates of Recognition“ for her many years of art advocacy. Find Dale at her website.

 

 

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