Mitch McGee Interview
How did you come up with the layered birch technique?
Lichtenstein with a Red Bow was the first piece that started me down this rabbit hole. I have always been fascinated with pop art and the ability of artists like Lichtenstein and Oldenburg to take everyday objects we are bombarded with and make them fascinating. Roy Lichtenstein took comic strips and repositioned them as lithography. In an almost tongue-in-cheek fashion I wondered how I could take one of his pieces and recreate it in another medium. The easy answer for me was wood. I grew up working with it and, combined with my graphic design background, it left me with something that I think really works.
You showcase oil and mixed media pieces on your website as well, but you have received more media attention for the birch series. Does this affect what projects you decide to pursue?
No. Early in my career I made the mistake of focusing on things that I thought other people wanted to see or work that I thought was marketable, and I think it stiffened my creativity. To be honest, I made my first of the birch series more than 10 years ago and it sat in my studio for a long time — it was more of a study of the process and the challenge I mentioned about Lichtenstein’s work. I am really enjoying the birch pieces right now and focusing on them, but I am also working on a couple of oils as well.
What has been your biggest struggle as an artist, and how did you overcome it or how are you overcoming it now?
Sorting through all of the ideas in my head, putting them on paper and then finding the time to make them is a big one. I think most of us spend our days and nights thinking about concepts and new ideas, but the challenge (when this is technically a hobby) is being productive and spending your nights and weekends working.
You have posted your work on Etsy. Have you had success marketing yourself on this website, and have you learned any strategies for making the most of it as a venue?
I love Etsy, but Saatchi Online has produced more results. A couple of months ago I posted my work on Saatchi, and the following week they featured a couple of pieces as “Art We Love This Week” on their website and their Tumblr page, and the work has kind of gone viral from there. The current challenge has been finding a show or gallery to display the work. They aren’t doing me any good sitting in my studio.
Is it difficult to be an artist with a family? How do you balance the two?
It is difficult — but also a blessing. I am writing this with my two-year-old in my lap and my six-year-old has a corner in my studio that is all hers. My wife is very supportive and really has pushed me to keep going and is always wrangling the girls so I can work. I also run a design studio, and trying to juggle everything has been challenging to say the least.
You have said you like to challenge yourself to create something new. Do you have any ideas for new media you are working on right now?
“We learn by using what we already know as a bridge over which we pass to the unknown. It is not possible for the mind to crash suddenly past the familiar into the totally unfamiliar. Even the most vigorous and daring mind is unable to create something out of nothing by a spontaneous act of imagination.” – A.W. Tozer
This quote challenges me every day. No matter how far I stretch my imagination, the outcome is going to always consist of my senses. Maybe it is a new subject or process like these birch pieces that stretches me. In a way, it almost feels like a new medium, and I am constantly thinking of ways to add something new or another layer to the work.
I am currently focusing on a collection using plywood that sits somewhere between painting and sculpture. I illustrate, cut, sand, stain, and assemble each piece by hand. The work consists of layered birch stacked in a way that makes sense dimensionally for the subject. There is warmth to the wood grain that is appealing. It compliments the subtle shadows created by layers of wood.
I am a believer of art, for art’s sake, being the purest of inspiration. I am always driven to create, constantly challenging myself to imagine and construct something new. It is an obstacle I wrestle with often – can we really create something wholly unique? While I may not ever be able to fully separate myself from the influences of my senses, my experiences, my environment; my goal each time is to craft a fresh interpretation of that which moves me. An interpretation that might evolve several times throughout the process and one that could be realized by another’s senses differently, which in return gives me a new and fresh perspective. To me this is the most rewarding part of the experience.
Mitch McGee graduated from Baylor University in 2000 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. He currently lives in Houston, TX with his wife and two little girls.