+ By Christine Fillat  + Photos by Tyler Mitchell

Tyler Mitchell’s artwork makes you scratch your head and say, “Whaa?” His images are suffused with natural beauty, pure bright color, and dark humor. There are landscapes with puffy clouds, fields of wheat, and forests in every season. Surrealistic imagery with tiny universes are rendered in fields of pure white. His images appear to be created with Adobe® Photoshop® software, but your eyes are being tricked. What you’re seeing are photographs of Mitchell’s sculptural constructs, lit in studio fashion.

A tiny man walks a tightrope between twin towers of circuit boards, reminiscent of Philippe Petit’s magical and masterful aerial walk so long ago connecting Manhattan’s World Trade Center towers. The photograph references that remarkable moment in time and offers a commentary of our reliance on technology and the thin line we walk every day with our computers, entrusting them with our information as we boldly go forth.

“My whole life, I always knew I was going to be an artist,” says Mitchell, who grew up in Davidsonville. “I went to Savannah College of Art and Design. Spent five years [there], then came home for a second, about a year, I guess, then I went out to San Diego.” There, he surfed, worked on construction jobs, and made art. Returning to Maryland, Mitchell decided to devote his life to art. Studying graphic design at Anne Arundel Community College, he became digitally savvy and proficient with a camera. “That was about two years ago this summer. I took my first photography class there, my one and only photography class. I was shooting photos before that, but it really got the wheels turning with me. Ever since then, I’ve been on a kind of creative rampage.”

Tyler Mitchell Gallery is where you can see what he’s been up to. He has exhibited work in galleries in New York City, at the Maryland Federation of Art, and at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art in Orange County, California. One can wonder about the process that takes place to create the photographs, homages to the surrealism of René Magritte, Joseph Cornell, and Salvador Dalí.

Mitchell’s latest body of work, “The Day The Earth Opened” portrays mounted landscapes on foam core. He then cut into the foam core and built geometric entryways, and folded the images back into the recessed geometric forms. The result is sci-fi in nature. “I like the fact that I can say it is a digital photograph, because I actually built it physically.”

When he’s not creating pieces, Mitchell tends bar in Crofton and works freelance as a graphic designer, creating logos. The culinary students at Annapolis High School will have a Tyler Mitchell-designed AHS logo on their chef’s jackets.

Mitchell’s studio is a storehouse of all the parts that go into his photographs. He constantly looks around at objects: everyday objects, traditional objects, and things that people grew up with including, classic tools and toys.  The mood of his art covers all the bases, from humorous to dark and eerie. “I’ve got this series of a kind of horror photography because I’m a big fan of horror movies.”

I met up with Mitchell the day after he’d been out in the snowy woods, working on what he calls his anatomy and tree shots. “I had this idea of doing anatomical cross-sections—you know, sections of the tree that have been cut off,” he says. “But imagine if that’s a tissue, a living, breathing thing. Kind of marrying our anatomy with a tree in kind of a shocking way.” Mitchell decorates freshly severed tree limbs with paint, fake blood, and raw meat. After photographing the grisly scene, he leaves the piece behind, hoping that someone may stumble upon the artwork and wonder what it was, going for shock value. Just what delights Mitchell? It isn’t just a singular vision. The viewer has to become actively involved.

This informs Mitchell’s art. “I strive to make impossible-looking, ‘Wow, -how’d-he-do-that?!’ photographs. They are a combination of sculpture, painting, woodworking, origami . . . you name it. Obviously, the finished product is the photograph. It’s like a big mathematical problem-solving puzzle. Sometimes they fall apart in front of my eyes, and sometimes they succeed [more easily] than I thought.” I either go back to the drawing board or decide that what I’m trying to do is, in fact, impossible.”

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