No Way Out: A Conversation with Artist Dean Mitchell, Art Patron Kathy Flynn, and Gallery Director Nicole Wolff

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When was the last time you encountered a painting that really moved you? What feelings did the painting evoke? Did your initial impression of the painting remain or change the more you pondered it? I love hearing stories from fellow artists who have found themselves entranced by or enamored with the artwork of their peers. On this special episode, I had the opportunity to speak with a returning Savvy Painter guest, Dean Mitchell as well as Art Patron Kathy Flynn, and Gallery Director Nicole Wolff.

Thinking back to my first conversation with Dean for this podcast, it’s quite appropriate that we discussed the transformative power of art. Dean’s painting and the subject of our conversation, “No Way Out” is a great example of that. Dean's painting was recently added to the permanent collection of the Columbus Museum of Fine Art.

On this episode, you will hear Dean talk about what this painting means to him, and why he created it. Then you will hear from Kathy Flynn - Kathy's father was involved in the civil rights movement in the '60s, she fell in love with art when she traveled with her parents through Europe visiting museums. Kathy first saw "No Way Out" at the Cutter and Cutter Gallery in St. Augustine, Florida two years ago.

She'll tell us why seeing this painting again after the murder of George Floyd moved her so much that she not only bought it but worked with Dean and our third guest, Nicole Wolff (director of Cutter & Cutter Fine Art ) to get it into the permanent collection of the Columbus Museum of Art.

What inspired “No Way Out”

Dean Mitchell sees his painting, “No Way Out” as an evolution of his own life, growing up as a Black kid in poverty in the American South. Looking at Dean's painting, it really draws you in and it feels like it almost wants to tell you something. Many people, Dean says, are often surprised when he tells them that the man in the painting is on the other side of the jail cell, he’s not inside where many people assume he is located.

Dean says that he wanted to create this painting to challenge the perception of the Black male in American society. Too often, people bring their assumed narrative and transpose it onto our artwork - for good and for ill. By drawing people in with his minimalist style, Dean is welcoming discerning viewers to joining a necessary and relevant conversation about race.

This needs to be in a museum

Last year’s heartbreaking killing of George Floyd has spurred people with platforms like myself to find a way to shine a light on the stain and legacy of racism in our society. I don’t just want to have the conversation, I want to be part of the solution. In a similar way, my guests Nicole Wolff and Kathy Flynn felt the same way about Dean’s painting. They were so moved and inspired by the message that Dean is sharing and the conversation that his painting has sparked that they knew they needed to get as many people to encounter it as possible. After a lot of hard work, Kathy, Nicole, and Dean were able to get “No Way Out” into the permanent collection of the Columbus Museum of Art.

Outline of This Episode
  • [2:20] I welcome my guests, Kathy Flynn, Nicole Wolff, and Dean Mitchell.
  • [5:00] What inspired Dean’s painting, “No Way Out”
  • [8:30] Kathy talks about her experience seeing Dean’s painting for the first time.
  • [14:30] Nicole talks about how Cutter & Cutter brought Dean into their gallery.
  • [21:00] Kathy shares some of her background.
  • [25:00] How has “No Way Out” impacted Kathy, Nicole, and Dean?
  • [34:20] Dean explains how he feels about his artwork featured in a museum.
  • [40:00] When did Dean paint, “No Way Out?”
  • [42:20] What is the “Black box narrative?”
  • [46:45] How do we broaden the narrative around “Black art?”
  • [54:00] Giving back.
  • [56:30] What it feels like to have your artwork deliver the message you intended.
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