Art doesn’t begin with a brush and a palette, but with the artist’s ability to perceive life. You have to learn how to live before you can learn how to paint…

Dean Mitchell

For Freedom

Dean Mitchell (born 1957) is an American figurative artist who works primarily in watercolor and oil paint. His subjects, derived largely from African American culture, have been cited for their emotional depth, avoidance of facile sentimentality, and accomplished sense of formal design.

Mitchell was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1957, and raised in Quincy, Florida. He attended Columbus College of Art & Design in Columbus, Ohio, supporting himself through the sale of his watercolors. After working as an artist for Hallmark Cards, Mitchell again earned his living by selling paintings of people, cityscapes, and still lifes.

Though he has since been honored with numerous exhibitions and prizes, Mitchell said that “In the seventies no one wanted to represent me because I was black.”[3] His inclusion in a 2002 exhibition Black Romantic at the Studio Museum in Harlem led to a full page color reproduction of his work in The New York Times, with favorable commentary by critic Michael Kimmelman, who wrote “Mr. Mitchell’s works are subtly tuned character studies with an eye toward abstract form and charismatic light. Mr. Mitchell is a virtual modern-day Vermeer of ordinary black people given dignity through the eloquence of his concentration and touch.”[4] For cultural critic Reginald Gant, Mitchell’s art “comes right out of the African-American experience. It’s the result of an aural construct—‘call and response’—that evolved during slavery (one group of slaves would sing out, and another group would respond). Imperative in these exchanges were issues of faith, trust, and perseverance.”[3]

Mitchell’s artwork has been the subject of numerous articles, and is represented in museum and corporate collections, including the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, and the Saint Louis Art Museum.[5] His life is the subject of an illustrated book for children, Against All Odds: Artist Dean Mitchell’s Story.

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