by arlene winkler
pull up in front of an anonymous two story building near the river,
the ugly old brick partially covered with plaster, as though one of
its various occupants had started to improve it
and simply lost
get me wrong. As a refugee from the Big City, Im rather partial
to this kind of loft buildingtotally unprepossessing from the
outsidean amazing universe within. I pause for a moment, in the
blinding sunlight, wondering what awaits me, and then I hear Michele
welcoming me, and I ascend the wooden steps to the second floor.
the light pours in softly, illuminating what is clearly a functioning
classroom. I should stop and ask about it, but I am already drawn to
the art covered walls. It is immediately apparent that Michele Mitchell
is a realist in the French Classical tradition.
part of a wonderful lineage, she explains. From Master to
Apprentice, from Boucher/Vien 1703-1770 to Jacque Louis David 1748-1825,
then to Antoine Jean Gros 1771-1835 to Delaroche/Gleyre 1808-1874 (students
of Charles Gleyre included Monet, Renoir and Whistler), then to Jean-Leon
Gerome 1824-1904, to William McGregor Paxton 1869-1941, to R.H. Ives
Gammell 1893-1981, to my teacher, Richard Lack 1928-present. And then
I am next in line, with my contemporaries at Richard Lacks atelier.
atelier is essentially a teaching studio, a workshop operated by a Master
for a small group of students in this case, a Master in the craft
of picture making, who is part of the lineage of many preceding Masters.
It was in this tradition that Michele became part of the classical continuum,
a practitioner of the knowledge and craft carried from lifetime to lifetime,
along with the understanding and the wisdom to commit to specific objectivity.
In addition, she continues, Im directly connected
to the Impressionist tradition
Im frankly surprised, even I knowthe Impressionists broke way
from the Classical school. The intention, for the Impressionists, was
to see the whole in relationship, without the separation of conceptual
boundaries through the definition of line. In her own words, It
was a gift to have had the opportunity to be linked to both schools.
The training endowed me with a balance, where the heart may dance but
and capacity of selection is still present in very pure form."
are given this framework of time to dance in. Existence awaits. I respond
with humility, openness and appreciation, and allowed to see, to feel,
to be completely intoxicated by life. And as the breath is given back,
so my brush gives back like a dancer finding its steps but never feeling
the floor. An invitation to dance with Existence, this is what is allowed
to me. To me, painting nature is like dancing with the Divine.
a diehard minimalist and defender of form and abstraction, Im
on shaky ground here, but on the other hand, I grew up in a city with
a world-class museum and a superb classical collection. One of my earliest
art memories is the post-coital Cupid and Psyche, painted by Jacques
Louis David, the leading French painter of the neoclassical era. Since
the intention of that period was to raise human consciousness and promote
virtue, I have to assume his slyly perfect rendition of the ancient
myth was an acknowledgment of the enormity of the task.
agree that the French were meticulous draughtsmen, that the intention
of their discipline was to see shape accurately. She sees it a discipline
for life itself.
With the integrity of seeing well, one can be elevated to compose
well. Once engaged in the dialogue with nature, ones choices are
changed. Life demands honesty and integrity. With this as the means,
what is revealed is something beyond concept, idea or imagination. And
Life begins to sculpt the artist.
Psyche, I know Im being seduced. Its impossible not to respond
to her integrity and the way it is reflected in her work these
glorious still lives and portraits, fairly dancing with life and clearly
done with a masters hand: a bright bowl of sunflowers set on a
tapestry before a famous painting by Velázquez; a woman in a
hat, in ¾ profile, the calm acceptance in her face belied by
the straining tendon in her neck; (The Call) a fine rendering
of our universal inner longing.
remember painting this and understanding the gift, that I was being
allowed to respond to such a beautiful feeling
with color and
line, hard edges and soft edges, a language of the eye that is connected
to the heart.
we are standing in front of a painting entitled, Moving Toward the Light.
A strained man, filled with effort and hope so individual, Im
convinced he looks familiar, and yet, so eternal he could as easily
be biblical as contemporary. I resonate to his ephemeral pathos, the
trap of having to live in a body. I see it articulated in the tension
of his naked shoulders,
and his too bright stare of recognition.
I began this painting, I told him, I need to find the commitment
within you that I find within myself to be able to paint you.
turns to me, now. Its how I find the truth when I paint
feel my hackles rising. The truth?
one-on-one conversation...about love.
suddenly flash on Kierkegaards admonition, that the crowd
is untruth a concept that has apparently been waiting submerged,
since my glory days in Philosophy 101, for this very Sunday to
hit me upside the head, and say Now do you get it?
certainly didnt learn to think this way in art school, I
my heart was a great facilitator for wisdom. And I knew enough to trust
my heart. I learned my truest friend and mentor was within.
the less, shes had wonderful training. After a brief stint at
the University of Illinois, she enrolled at the American Academy of
Art in Chicago. She studied there for the next five years and traveled
back and forth to Europe, producing a body of work, having shows, getting
into galleriesin short, living her life as a fine artist. But
one day, I looked at what I was producing and realized my style was
getting in the way of my art.
just thrown me another curve, but before I can react she continues,
When I speak of realism I speak of something pure, something true.
You have to become transparent to be able to see what has been, and
what is, and what will beas a way of seeing the whole.
this time, Micheles work was being shown, and shed won a
number of prestigious awards including two successive Society of Illustrators
Exhibition Awards and Best of Show at the National Portrait Seminar
International Competition. But in 1988, she enrolled at the Atelier
Lack, Studio of Fine Arts in Minneapolis where she was brought into
the French Classical tradition and taught how to see, How to strike
that balance between the heart and the head, how to engage in the kind
of probing that leads to transparency, that allows one to see beauty
in its clearest form.
the craft itself? I ask.
is the tool. The fingers of the tradition. It links you to history,
but your aspirations must be very specific.
Im walking a journey Ive never known domesticity.
When Jim and I came back from Florence with our daughter, Olivia, we
learned that I was pregnant again, and chose to stay in the States to
give birth. We decided to move here from Chicago, where Olivia was born,
to a place that promised to provide a culturally inspiring environment
for the children and ourselves as artists. A month after arriving
in Asheville, Maria Isabella (Bella)was born.
Michele and her husband, Jim Ostland, also a classically trained painter,
have started their own atelier, to bring a classical foundation to children
and to introduce the possibilities to the adults, who are interested
in learning to see and articulate nature truthfully and equip them with
the tools to do creative work.
addition, since the birth of their daughters, who are now 7 and 5 years
old, Michele and Jim have accepted portrait commissions, which has enabled
them to provide a stable environment and to continue evolving within
their craft. Not surprisingly, their work has been a strong response
to their talent. For Michele, the reward is seeing a window start to
open, that will allow her to pursue her personal work.
look forward to returning to the place where I may respond to the inspiration
within me with complete abandonment, and allow my heart, with the voice
as an artist, to find the means to dance with the Divine on canvas.
To be an artist you are a part of life speaking of itself.
portfolios of Michele Mitchell and Jim Ostlund may be seen by appointment
at the Art Atelier, 375 Depot Street in Asheville. For more information
about the Art Atelier, they may be contacted at theartatelier.com.
is a freelance financial writer, specializing in institutional finance.
Her articles are published in financial trade journals all over the
world. But dont bother to GOOGLE her; theyre all credited
to the executives who employ her. A former ad agency president and enthusiastic
participant of life on the New York fast track, she moved to Asheville
in 2002 with her sculptor husband, Robert Winkler. A mother of three,
a grandmother of four, and the author of three screenplays, she is dealing
with her culture shock by writing a North/South novel under her own