Artist transformation

By Ashleigh Fielding | posted on August 10, 2019

A DENMARK artist who recently completed a month-long residency in France has returned home full of inspiration for her upcoming exhibition.

Jen Mitchell went solo to the Ardeche region of France in June before touring Switzerland and northern Western Australia in July.

Her French experience came in the form of a self-directed art residency that she said renewed her commitment to aiding people around the world facing geopolitical and cultural challenges.

Mitchell’s initial desire to visit France stemmed from seeking inspiration for her Touchstones art project, a project based on looking at what grounds people in times of change. This includes items known as touchstones.

France is a meaningful country to Mitchell as her American grandmother was an expat artist in Paris in the 1950s and a visit to Monet’s Garden 15 years ago inspired Mitchell to become an artist.

“That year had felt transformational, and it has always held a special place in my heart since then,” she said, reflecting on her time spent studying at The Paris Institute of Political Studies in 2004.

“I originally went to study political science and economics, but the experience was much broader than I expected.

“In our first week of the exchange program we went to Monet’s Garden at Giverny in the north of France and to the Monet Museum, and it was a lightbulb moment for me – in the depths of my heart, I felt like I could learn to paint like that, and that the world around me was beautiful enough to try.”

Mitchell didn’t waste any time once she got her feet on French soil this year.

She painted, read, listened, walked and spoke to various people about their “lived reality” in France and took time to reflect on herself and her art.

She also kept busy learning more about what she describes as “the tale of shared humanity”, an idea that arose from visiting an exhibition of international photographer Steve McCurry.

“Whether discussing touchstones with United Nations employees in Geneva, or attending a Protestant fundraiser with a devout Catholic to support refugee families in a small rural French village, this humanity shares so many of the same hopes and dreams, and is also dealing with many of the same geopolitical challenges that we see here in Western Australia and the world,” Mitchell said.

Further to her humanitarian work, Mitchell learned more about herself than she thought she would.

“In the past when I travelled, I had always considered myself to be an American expat abroad, and this was the first time that I realised I feel more Australian than anything else,” she said.

“The landscape that calls to me is the Western Australian land- scape; the people that I want to paint are from our own diverse communities.

“Of all the beautiful places I visited in France and Switzerland, my favourite place was walking in my own front door here in Denmark.

“This may seem cliche, but for me this sense of rootedness was profound.

“I went to France seeking my touchstone on the other side of the world, but instead realised that it is right here on the south coast.”

Mitchell will be part of a Southern Art and Craft Trail exhibition at Denmark Artshouse from September 21 to October 19 where she will display the touchstones she collected from 14 countries and three continents, alongside other artists’ touchstones.