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Mitch Griffiths' Promised Land

The Halcyon Gallery welcomes Griffiths and his photorealistic paintings, exploring fame, nationalism and mass consumerism

Our society is ruled by the idea of the individual and more poignantly, the famous individual. Imagery has replaced fact in some senses, we are governed by pictures, paying little attention to the text beneath, maybe grazing the caption with our eyes but, it stands, the image is king. Mitch Griffiths upcoming exhibition “The Promised Land’ at the Halcyon Gallery, who also represent Bob Dylan and Eve Arnold, explores the power of the image in relation to popular culture in the UK. His photorealistic paintings bear strong visual messages exploring fame, nationalism and consumerism. Griffiths has also painted portraits of famous faces including Ray Winstone and Keira Knightly that will appear in this hotly anticipated show. A self taught painter whose work uses these iconoclastic images that hang, as if in the imagination on the canvas, heightening the symbolism of the pictures. Dazed caught up with Mitch Griffiths to find out about the inspiration behind “The Promised Land’ and the ideas behind his work.

DD: Your paintings have an almost photo realistic quality to them. Is it right you have no formal training as a painter?
Mitch Griffiths: As a painter, I'm self-taught. I 'studied' Graphic Design and Illustration at college, where it seemed any kind of drawing skill was frowned upon. Indeed, it was considered a hindrance to creativity. So as you can imagine realist painting wasn’t even on the radar. A hugely dispiriting experience. It was in 1995 when I first really attempted to paint with acrylics. Trial and error guided me but, I was usually successful in what I attempted. By 2003 I had made the transition to oils. Many people say my paintings look photo-realist at times. I take it as a compliment but, it's not what I'm trying to achieve. A realist painting, any piece of realist art has to contain a soul, an organic quality. Technique must never overpower emotion or message. I'm not trying to make my work look real; I'm trying to make the viewer enter MY reality.
DD: Tell me about the route you took into the Art world?
Mitch Griffiths: When I started painting I began to enter the BP Portrait award. In 2001 my self-portrait was chosen for the advertising campaign for the exhibition. In terms of exposure, it was better than 1st prize. I exhibited in the exhibition a couple more times. This is where Paul Green and the Halcyon Gallery approached me.
DD: You have said that 'once you paint a MacDonald's burger box in oil paint, it becomes important and immortal.' Are you drawing in some part from the French Realist movement? 'The heroism of commerce?
Mitch Griffiths: I’ve never heard of that movement. I'm such a philistine when it comes to art history.
The burger box is such a loaded symbol. Does it represent easily-accessible sustenance that we can buy with a wage we've worked hard for in a country where all your dreams can be fulfilled, or does it represent aggressive marketing, cynical business strategies and over-indulgence?
DD: There is a religious quality to your work, in the Christ like stance in Consumerism in particular, what is the significance of this in your work?
Mitch Griffiths: I’m very interested in iconography, its rules, its symbolism and interpretation.
All advertising, promotion and entertainment are iconography, designed to instil reverence for the product/person. As our belief grows for a product or person it becomes more powerful, gains more followers and are worshipped by the actions of these followers.
DD: Patriotism is also a strong theme in your work, would you say you were a patriot?
Mitch Griffiths: The dictionary definition of patriotic is “to be inspired by the love of your country". So yes, I would say I'm that. There are things I truly love about this country but there are also things that I'm ashamed of. For example, the idea of this little island having built a global empire is a double-edged sword. Particularly when you think of the means by which that empire was carved and at what cost to others.

DD: Should that British Empire instill pride or shame?
Mitch Griffiths: I feel like that about the Union Jack. Right now, its image invokes so much emotion. The most hard hitting being grief as we see it draped over the coffins of repatriated soldiers. Then, turning to anger as we've realized the flag was pulled from under our feet by politicians, who, under a shroud of false patriotism, exploited our perceived fears and sent young men and women to fight in an illegal war. The title "The Promised Land" can relate to numerous ideals. It's a place where you want to be. Your promised land can be a new country, a new government, a new car, a university place, a job, a gig, a song, a drug, a phone or a computer, a mirror or a glossy magazine. It's all about aspiration, acceptance and achievement.
DD: There is much criticism of popular culture in our 'modern age' yet you clearly find inspiration in it. Do you think it is simply that we are more self regarding or is society truly on the slide?
Mitch Griffiths: We certainly are more self-regarding. That is exactly why people like me find inspiration in it. There's so much material out there. Over the last few generations life in the western world has become progressively easier. An increasing percentage of society's main concern isn't "how will I survive" but, "what will I do with my life?" and not in an altruistic way. Mass media tells us we can achieve anything we want. There is a flaw in this concept: if anyone can make it then the ones that do are less respected and more resented. The thinking isn't "I can" but "Why not me?" our belief isn't in our abilities but in the right to be given what we want. If we're so self-obsessed about our dreams and desires, it's only natural we scrutinise our flaws and shortcomings.

Halcyon Gallery, 29 April - 05 June, 24 Bruton Street, London