Interview with Adrienne Outlaw, WPLN, February 4, 1998

Adrienne Outlaw: Have you ever noticed when you're driving how fast trees seem to whisk by but [the moon] seems to stand still? It's an optical effect called parallax and Adrienne Outlaw introduces us to Richard Mitchell, a Nashville artist who is exploring it.

Parallax is [an apparent change in the displacement of an object caused by a change in observational position that provides a new line of sight]. Artist Richard Mitchell has been fascinated by the idea for years.

Richard Mitchell: There's a great piece by Hans Holbein that's got a skull that's been elongated. If you looked up over your left shoulder as you walked in you could see the skull very clearly but when you looked across the room the skull just looked like this stretched out thing that was really almost unrecognizable. I've always loved stuff like that.

AO: Mitchell started exploring his idea by separating lights and darks of realistic, photographic images.

RM: I've always been interested in manipulating the shapes. I got the idea for my pieces while walking at Radnor Lake looking at the parallax motion among the tree trunks and how they change and the idea that as I change position with the tree trunks, some are moving by fast and some are moving by slower.

AO: He drew the layers of gray that make up an image on individual sheets of paper. Then he stacked the image back up like a sandwich by layering the papers. As the viewer moved around the drawing the pattern changed. As Mitchell kept working on the idea, he started to break the images down even more.

RM: I'm interested in how much or little the brain needs to recognize an image. It's amazing how little it requires.

AO: When you look at one of his pieces up close, it looks like just a bunch of disintegrating lines. As you step back, however, the lines start making sense. You start to realize they form an almost photographic picture. Because he isolates each layer on several sheets of transparencies and then separates the layers with a quarter inch thick piece of foam, the image changes when viewed from different angles.

RM: The brain and the mind are supplying the image, not so much the marks. The brain fills in the blanks. Spacing is very important. If you get it too deep it's too shadow boxed, you can't see it because there's too much shadow cast over the top.

AO: Although he considers himself a painter, Mitchell uses a camera and a computer for this body of work.

RM: I'm trying to use the computer as a medium itself, just like a pencil or a paintbrush. I'm letting it do a lot of the stuff I used to do by hand. I like the way that digitizing an image helps me manipulate the image I always used to draw.

AO: To recreate an image in his computer, Mitchell uses the 4 color separation process used in printing where images are layered using the colors cyan, magenta, yellow and black.

RM: I got the idea from JPEG compression, which is a type of computer graphic compression where the color information is not very detailed but yet the tonal values of the image are. I print the black layer fairly detailed, it's fairly high resolution and then basically disintegrate the color areas.

AO: Mitchell's smaller pieces, about 8 by 11 inches, are done entirely on the computer. But to make his larger ones, some of which are 3 feet tall, he has do parts of it by hand.

RM: First off I print off a cartoon from the computer and piece it together so it's full scale, then I ... lay that under the piece of Plexiglas.

AO: Then he adheres lines of transparent tape to the Plexiglas, based on the cartoon underneath.

RM: I use transparent tape is because it allows the other colors to shine through so it you have a yellow or cyan you get a nice green shining through. It enhances the color of the image.

AO: Mitchell gets his images from photographs he's taken of his family and friends - some of which he took a long time ago. For instance, one of his large color images is from a picture he took of a woman who befriended him twenty years ago.

RM: That's Alfise de Corval Townley, she was the grandmother of the [wife] of the couple that lived next door to me. She used to bring me cookies, hang out because she was bored. So we got to be pretty good friends. She gave me the recipe for the best chess pie in the whole world. She was just a delightful person.

AO: One of his images shows Mitchell as a child nestled next to his dad. His mom took the picture of the two of them on their back porch. Mitchell made the piece while his father was very sick.

RM: He knew I was doing it. He knew he was going to be hung in the Parthenon but he never got to see it.

AO: You can see Richard Mitchell's Parallax show at the Parthenon through ... I'm Adrienne Outlaw for Nashville Public Radio.

Interview used with permission.