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Tag Archives: contemporary art

My work is inspired by historical ceramics as well as the flotsam and jetsam of contemporary culture.

Synthesis - Stoneware Porcelain, glass, 20 x 14 x 8

Synthesis - Stoneware Porcelain, glass, 20 x 14 x 8"

Moche ceramics of Pre-Columbian Peru are a powerful influence, both technically complex and sculpturally compelling. The richness embodied by these ancient clay vessels drives me to make work that is emotive, reflective of my world-view, and visually demanding of the viewer. Moche artists drew from every facet of life: plants, animals, architecture, the human body, the divine and the mundane of existence. I strive to work in this manner as well, combining objects and forms from the diverse culture and society in which I live, the United States of America in the 21st century. Initially, this approach resulted in vessels derived from street trash such as mufflers and styrofoam cups, buoy forms on the Delaware River, and the urban architecture of Philadelphia.

In recent years my work has become less vessel-oriented, though research into historical ceramics has continued to feed my ideas. Often my forms will seem to suggest a specific function or use, but the use is ambiguous; a hybrid of the known world with a less concrete reality. This newer work also draws from a catalogue of forms that are suggestive in nature. In Philip Rawson’s book Ceramics, he refers to memory traces, and the power of forms to evoke thoughts and memories. This is similar to the way we associate colors with emotional states or meanings. By incorporating forms that are symbolic and suggestive, I attempt to engage the viewer in a process of decoding.

Most recently, I have been intrigued by art that synthesizes the human, physical body with the mechanics of the manmade world. This has led me to research the work of Raoul Hausmann, Max Ernst, and Rebecca Horn. Each of these artists reference the body and its uneasy union with the artificial or mechanical. Symbolic forms that I find particularly compelling include the hand and objects used as surrogates for the body: bottle nipples, respirator bags, sex toys, prosthetics. The hand exemplifies the human presence, while the other objects, to varying degrees, distance us from the most human of activities. These forms, as manufactured objects replicating natural functions, act as substitutes for nature. I find this composite of the physical body and the synthetic world simultaneously fascinating and frightening. Through this line of inquiry I am conscious of the connecting threads that link the many disparate elements of history, culture, and what it is to be human.

Server II - Stoneware, mixed media, 14 x 20 x 9



Cut branch - welded clay

Cut branch - welded clay






I have always been driven with desire for the straightforward truth of the natural world. Nature, through its time tested procedures reveal material as manifest with a record of time, passion, beauty, transformation and honesty.


Elements of this kind are essential and primordial to humankind. All things are imbued with this composite. To become close to these elements through making art allows me to touch ever so lightly that universal honesty.


-Dennis Lee Mitchell


Analogous Radial  - 44 diameter, colored cast porcelain

Analogous Radial - 44" diameter, colored cast porcelain


I see my work as an investigation of the form that thought takes through an investigation of form itself. This investigation stems from an interest in the structures of both the natural world, our own and how these structures influence the way we think. I have developed a system of forms that I combine in order to examine the relationships and patterns that occur through their formal interaction. This system is derived from three sets of constituent parts. Forms are cast from three sets of colored slips. Saturation of color decreases as the scale increases much in the same way that our understanding dilutes as we consider larger ideas. Color, pattern and texture are used to further delineate individual forms within a set. This construction is currently cast from blue (rectilinear), yellow (arch) and green colored slips (cylindrical).

Placing limits on the system that I use to produce my work allows me to investigate the patterns and models we develop to understand the world we live in. The number of forms in any constituent set allows for a finite yet immense number of possible combinations. These numerical limits influence the development of pattern in basic yet profound ways. For example, a radial pattern derived from one set seems to maintain harmony successfully when it is based on an odd number, and most successfully when that number is prime. A radial pattern that is based on two sets seems most stable when based on an even number. This allows for a balanced structure, and a symmetry that exists at a larger scale. I find this to be profound in its metaphysical implications. It models how complex pattern can arise from just a few variables and how these patterns can be modeled and combined to conform to a multitude of models.

Tropical Storm

Squared Landscape: Tropical Storm

Worn under Medieval armor, chain mail is made of tiny interlocking metal rings designed to protect a body in motion. I use the chain mail pattern and other woven patterns to create ceramic works that conjure up a sense of permanence and defensive concealment. Like the ancient armor, my pieces are made of a fabric of moveable interlocking rings. Using clay to make a protective mesh is contradictory; for how can it defend anything, much less itself? Visually stone-like, the pieces appear strong and impenetrable, belying their inherent fragility.

Colorful Box - salt-fired stoneware, 6 x 11.5 x 11.5

Colorful Box - salt-fired stoneware, 6 x 11.5 x 11.5

Not long after I was born in 1967, my parents moved us from New York City to a farm in northwestern New Jersey. There we played in the mud, went to school and rode our horses barefoot and bareback into the pond. Until the age of 12, we also lived for half of every year in Israel.

My undergraduate degree at Rutgers University was in math. Love of math was not enough to invent new ideas in this field – unfortunately for me that also required genius. The discovery that I could be far more creative with clay than with math came to me during my last year of college and I have been proving it ever since.

Most of my ceramic knowledge comes from other artists, books and the many residencies that have provided me with a supportive and well equipped environment. They include: Hunter College in NYC, Anderson Ranch in CO, Greenwich House Pottery in NYC, Watershed Center for Ceramic Arts in ME, Chester Spring Studio in PA and University of the Arts in PA.

When not working in my studio I teach at The Art School at Old Church in NJ.

The new works in the Propaganda series continue the themes established in the Gods of Commerce series, but focus on the selling of ideology or “truth” rather than the sale of products. In the Gods of Commerce works, I concentrated on using pre-existing trademarks and logos that used mythology as a means of establishing a sales platform for current consumer culture and products. With the Propaganda series I have widened the net from products to ideology and the permeable nature of truth. The best efforts of painters, writers and graphic designers have historically been used to promote often diametrically opposed versions of “truth”. Like mythology or religion the version of political truth that becomes the most accepted, or the most popular in a society frequently reigns as indisputable; at least until the next paradigm shift.


Virgin Venus 42 x 20 Stoneware with oxides, glaze and underglaze. 2008

"Virgin Venus" 42 x 20" Stoneware with oxides, glaze and underglaze. 2008

The connection to Pop Art in this new work remains strong. I use images and words taken from actual propaganda posters from a variety of countries and put them together in graphically interesting ways. In some ways propaganda appeals to the lowest common denominator in any country in the same way as flashy ad campaigns or cartoon strips, they work best if the viewer reacts without thinking too much. The similarities between German, American, Chinese, Korean, Russian, and Japanese propaganda are amazing. Each country preys upon the fear of the other. Each country uses racial profiling to demean the enemy. Each country calls up patriotic fervor to defend the motherland and its way of life. Each country calls for the support of its citizens for the army and a common goal. In the 1960’s Andy Warhol used images of Chairman Mao as part of a wildly successful capitalist, market-driven campaign to rule the “art world”, thus creating an amazing and lasting bit of visual irony. I have revisited the consumerist vs. capitalist argument and enlarged it to bring into focus the irony of polemic truths living side-by-side on the same tea pot.