Mitchell Thomas is currently undertaking his final year of honours at UNSW Art & Design, majoring in Sculpture/Performance and Installation studio.
You are an entrant at this year’s 20th anniversary of Sculpture by the Sea. Describe how it feels to exhibit your work at the world’s largest annual outdoor sculpture exhibition?
It’s really great to be a part of the 20th anniversary show. It’s very exciting. It’s a bit nerve wrecking as well. Ultimately super exciting. The selection process was very quick. I sort of left it to the last minute and decided on a whim. Like, I was thinking whether it was possible to even get in because a lot of people said that it was quite hard and I think it was 2 nights before, I entered. There was also a problem with my application. So I wasn’t sure if it was going to go through and I received a phone call about a week later to say that I have been selected. It’s really a good opportunity and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end this year, with it being my final year. It’s kind of perfect. It’s almost like the cherry on top of the cake. The icing is the Honours degree and this is the extra bit, the moment that made it more worthwhile.
What does this opportunity mean to you as an emerging artist?
It’s hard to put it into words because again, a lot of people mention that it is quite difficult to be an entrant and this was my first time applying. I had been practising a little bit in 2015. So I wasn’t even sure if I was prepared. It’s one of those platforms that there’s a high generated amount of audience. It’s just a great experience and also, as well as experiences can mean loads to understand how everything operates and how to go about the everyday and being a professional practising artist. Again, I couldn’t ask for anything more.
Tell us about the work that you will be exhibiting? What is it about?
The work is titled ‘Are we there yet?’ and very simply put, it’s a site-specific installation which consists of a commercially bought flag pole and the flag pole is flying a clear transparent plastic flag. It’s to generate a questioning or opening up into what it means to disempower such a symbolic object as the flag, and then reflect on our own ideas of ownership and consider who we are, where we are from and what that means to everybody.
What is it made of? How long did it take to create it?
The planning of the work was quite quick. Working with the materials is quite difficult. The other part was experimenting with the actual plastic materials was the most difficult part because it’s really not conventional to fly plastic on a flag pole as opposed to fabric. I guess it was 3 months of working through different materials and trying to find the one that was exactly right. It needed to be transparent. It couldn’t be translucent. It had to exactly be like a window, like a piece of glass. Also, to factor it being public art and being outside was also difficult because you are working with the elements.
How much are you selling it for?
I have put a price on the work and this was something that was discussed by my mentor from the Clitheroe [Foundation] as well. It came up as a topic because I felt that maybe by selling the work, it devalued the integrity. But in that conversation, he also stressed the importance for an artist to make a living and to consider what it means for your time and work that you’ve put into return on being able to continue other ideas, fund other opportunities and progress your practice forward as well. So it becomes an artwork that is available to purchase. The artwork is for sale for $5500 and there’s a potential for a second edition as well.
Do you have artists that you look up or are interested in their works? Why?
When I installed my work on location, I found out that the work beside mine was actually that of 2 artists who are also UNSW Art and Design alumni, Sean Cordeiro and Claire Healy. They have been a very big influence on what it is that I do and to have work beside them, I was very excited. I was lost for words when I found that out. They were initially my choice of mentors but they were extremely busy and weren’t able to do it. I was unaware they were in this exhibition.
You are also a recipient of the Clitheroe Foundation Mentorship to assist his installation for Sculpture by the Sea, 2016. How did this come about?
It was announced to me when I did my site visit and selected where I would like sculpture to be installed. The provider of it is Paul Clitheroe AM. So I have to thank them for their support.
Basically, being an emerging young artist, I fit the criteria to be eligible for this mentorship and it’s opened up a lot of my practice as well as being able to have a mentor and have them paid as well for their time and to sit with me. It has been vital and really and eye opening.
My mentor is Hayden Fowler who has been an influence on me and also has been a lecturer of mine at UNSW Art and Design. The mentorship period is 10 months. Between him and I, working around both our schedules, we’ve narrowed it down to 8 months with about 1 visit a month, subject to changes.
How has your journey been like since you started creating sculptures and installations?
It as beneficial to be able to sit down with someone Hayden is quite well known for his works and his works surrounding public art. He had just done a large installation at the MCA. So I was able to get an understanding of exactly what is involved in setting it up and making sure everything is complete.
So that was one lesson learnt. The other was just being involved with such a large exhibition and everything surrounding that. We spoke before in terms of pricing the works. So it’s been another valued lesson and he’s been helping me with researching materials and finding the right resources to go about making the work, sourcing the fabrics and things like that. Talking to the companies, seeing what’s right and who can help make the work as well.
It’s been really fantastic to be able to sit down with someone and get personal time to talk to him. To be mentored, it’s been an incredible opportunistic experience. So I can’t ask for more.
What do you intend to become or aspire to?
The simple answer is I hope to continue to be a practising artist. I like to make art and practice regularly. I have always aspired for my work to allow me to travel internationally. So if I can just keep doing that then I will be a happy successful person and I hope I can inspire more people to be more creative.
What’s the next step immediately after Sculpture by the Sea?
The next thing for me is the annual Graduation Show at UNSW Art and Design, which is roughly a month in November. It’s going to come around quite quickly. It’s also a bit daunting but I hope I’m well prepared. But the months after that, I have not made any plans or sought out any opportunities because I have so much on my plate right now. I think I’d like a little trip away to just debrief from all these craziness and reset for a little bit and see what is next and try to find other things.