Artist Dean Mitchell shares lessons learned on road to success


Award-winning artist Dean Mitchell will make an appearance at the Cutter & Cutter Fine Arts Gallery in Ponte Vedra Beach from 6 to 9 p.m., July 21. The gallery, located at 333 Village Main St., will exhibit the painter’s latest work.

Mitchell, who grew up in Quincy, Florida, has an extensive background as an artist. Known for his figurative works, landscapes and still lifes, he has been featured in several publications, including The New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, American Artist, Artist Magazine, Fine Art International and Art News.

“I graduated from the Columbus College of Art and Design in Ohio in 1980, and I got a job at Hallmark Cards as an illustrator for a few years, which I didn’t like at all, and so I ended up getting fired from that job,” said Mitchell. “That was the only job I’ve ever had professionally, and I’ve been painting ever since. Since 1983, I’ve been on my own as an independent artist.”

Mitchell said that he knew he wanted to be an artist from a young age. While his grandmother was the one to first introduce him to art with a paint-by-number kit, his dream of being an artist was not always supported by those closest to him.

“My mother had planted different seeds in my head about the fine arts,” he said. “She felt that race was too much of an obstacle to make a living selling art. I grew up in the ‘60s – right in the heart of the Civil Rights movement – and my mother was the first of my grandmother’s four children to go to college… She was like, ‘You are never going to make a living doing that as a black man. You are never going to do that in this country.’”

Mitchell doesn’t fault his mother for her lack of confidence in his ability to achieve his goal, however.

“I totally get it, why she said it,” he said. “If you look at the time period, when African-Americans couldn’t even sit in a restaurant, and here I am talking about how I’m going to paint some pictures that’s going to hang in a museum… It’s a pretty far-fetched dream.”

As an African-American artist, Mitchell said he has experienced his share of prejudice, sometimes from unexpected places.

“I have been, in some ways, black-balled by some African-American curators and critics… I don’t do what the art world wants, which is sometimes post-modern black, which is a body of work that deals with race,” he said. “And my work, though I’m African-American, I am looking for the human condition… One of the things that I didn’t want to do is get pigeon-holed as some black artist. I am an American artist.”

The “human condition” that Mitchell seeks to depict is that which unites all people as members of the human race.

“For example, I did paintings of my uncle who had cancer, I did paintings of a doctor who had Alzheimer’s,” he said. “When people see those images, they don’t just see a painting of a black person, what they see is a person grappling with a certain part of life that anybody could grapple with. Is it a person of color that I painted? Yes, but they’re still a human being… We’ve been so socially conditioned through segregation of prejudices that we can’t even see ourselves as full human beings sometimes.”

Economically, Mitchell said, his life may seem to some like a typical “rags to riches” tale about a man whose dream was realized through the combination of hard work and ambition. According to Mitchell, the story is far more complex.

“I myself was naïve about the process,” he said. “And in some ways, I’m glad I was naïve, because I’m not sure—if I’d have known what I know now—to be honest, I’m not sure I would have pursued it professionally. It’s been an interesting road and I’ve been successful at it, but I’ve dedicated my life to it, too, so it hasn’t been an easy road by any measure.”

According to Mitchell, one of the many lessons he has learned along that road is: “If you believe in something and you want to pursue it, a lot of times, people don’t believe in it until it actually happens. In other words, you have to believe in your own dream before other people will.”