Interview by
Fredi Fischli and Niels Olsen

Dan Mitchell (British, b. 1966, lives and works in London) has exhibited widely outside of the mainstream galleries. He is a founding member of poster studio (1994–1997) and the publisher of Hard Mag.

FREDI FISCHLI & NIELS OLSEN  From 1994–1996, you were running Poster Studio in London with Merlin Carpenter and Nils Norman. To this day, posters remain the main medium in your practice. What interests you in this format?

DAN MITCHELL  I think of what I make as fine art prints. There’s a frustration at the heart of this for me, because posters are seen as cheap, almost free or throwaway, while prints can go for millions. So I’m hoisted by my own petard, which is quite funny, but obviously annoying, and ultimately harks back to my own frustration with an art market designated to provide luxury good for the wealthy. But I’m not answering your question. So the poster is something I like because classically it holds ideas, themes or information in place in a direct and readable way. Obviously, this means there’s a great deal to play about with, subvert, steal and exploit. As an artist, I can fuck about with meaning all I like in ways a “poster designer” can’t.

The democracy of the poster is key. It’s walked into on the street, available to all. It has to compete with an intense array of mediums, but still holds its own. Basically, I like the lower art of the poster—it’s like a quick dirty fuck as opposed to a long romance. But I want to take this filthy speed up to the level of the grand palaces of the museum. Context is important. High art is about history, money and prestige. The gatekeepers maintain a firm hold on what gets in and out, whereas posters can slip out in front of the public’s eyeballs, cheap, immediate and then gone. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m trying to work these two forces together. Maybe that’s not possible, a little bit like leading a champagne lifestyle on lemonade money… But we’ll see.

F&N  We are very interested in poster art history. If you think, for example, of the Situationists, they used posters as the idea to distribute art in the urban realm. Is there a specific history you relate to?

DM  There’s Kippenberger. He really got what was possible, often making a poster that was disconnected from the show, or rather using the poster as an excuse to make another tangential artwork. I’d like to be able to capture what I felt when I was a schoolboy and first saw the Slits poster for their debut album Cut, or Cosey Fanni Tutti’s artwork for the ICA “Prostitution” show. And yes, I’m aware of the Situationists’ work, but possibly more key is the work from the 1930s and ‘40s, around the war. The propaganda of the USA, UK, Nazis and Russia had to employ really dramatic devices to get urgent ideas across.

F&N  Another great artist working with posters is Jenny Holzer. With her “Inflammatory Essays,” originally presented anonymously on the streets of New York City, she used the potential of mass production given by the poster medium to communicate urgent messages about power, social control, abuse, consumption and sex. Are you also interested in this “aggressive” but economical way of distributing art?

DM  Yes, although I’d cite Barbara Kruger as well, in terms of her graphic aggression. There’s an idea captured by Nina Power, where she discusses the violence of capital/neoliberalism being visited upon us in the everyday, suggesting our response should be in the everyday as well. Perhaps this I why I fell in love with Los Angeles recently. The whole movie prop and and poster scene is insane. The street is a battlefield for attention on a mega scale, all bathed in stunning sunlight; it makes NYC look boring and consumed by itself. Perhaps I could make huge posters for films I’d like to make but never will, like DEATH LOLZ The Movie, or a film about late capitalism and the rise of the neo-Nazis called The Ass That Ate Itself.

“I like the lower art of the poster—it’s like a quick dirty fuck as opposed to a long romance.”

F&N  Albert Oehlen made a series of insane, early digital posters for both fictional and real exhibitions. By their enormous size, they somehow became something else, something more than a normal poster. Would you consider your print-making as a form of painting?

DM  I love painting, but I hate it, too. I’m jealous of the painter. Paintings are physically tough, hard to destroy and can last a very long time. They have this intrinsic value that endures. Perhaps there’s an inmate value tied up with the act of painting—the signs of the artist’s hand being left for all time on the surface of the piece, as though it’s proof of some force at work. Anyway, it pisses me off. I’m not a painter, so I have to try to work out how to impart this idea of value into something that’s mechanical. As I sit in front of my screens, I don’t see it as any different from spreading paint about on a canvas. I think the “big” paintings are a pre-crash deal, and also very macho. So many of the galleries in NYC have had painting shows in recent years. It’s where the money is—but money is dumb, and the shows were terrible.

Dan Mitchell (British, b. 1966) is an artist who lives and works in London.

All images courtesy of the artist.

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