Benefit Print Edition
15 x 22 inches
Hard ground and aquatint with chine colle
Edition of 10
$1,500 unframed / $1,850 Framed
Jeffry Mitchell’s recent print, Blake’s Lion, 2018, captures an exuberant pathos emblematic of his larger practice as a sculptor and installation artist. Echoing both the beleaguered lion that’s been forever-exiled to circus grounds but also Mitchell’s more explicit nod to William Blake’s watercolor study Dante running from the Three Beasts (1824), this is a lion somewhat at a loss. Not sure which pose to strike, Mitchell’s beast chooses to exist in between the Christian agape of mouth-open wonder and a more bemused bafflement. In short, the lion meant to depict worldly ambition allegorically has knowingly let the exiled Florentine get past to tell his tale, empathetic to the poet’s long journey ahead.
Excerpted from a moment at the outset of the trilogy where Dante is lost and hopeless as he attempts to make it from a dark wood to a shining hill beyond, only to be confronted in sequence by a leopard, lion, and ravenous she-wolf, the scene is one of preamble or setup for it is in fleeing the trio of beasts that Dante stumbles upon his mentor and sidekick through hell, purgatory, and paradise, the ancient Greek poet Virgil. As imagined by Blake and riffed further on by Mitchell, the lion here mouths something like a roar and smile, awkward and even slightly bemused in his half-hearted pursuit of the poet in exile. And so the lion is off the hook, transformed into a tutelary and even guiding force of perhaps a secondary yet not less important register than Virgil, also urging the poet on to his epic task.
It is just such contradictory and canny beauty that magnetizes, inspires, and buoys Mitchell’s tragicomic universe. Deftly mixing popular culture references and folk stylings with savvy art historical citation and modernist maneuvers, Mitchell reminds as readily of Nicole Eisenman and Rosemarie Trockel as Blake or Philip Guston. Focusing in on the lion’s quasi-grin and traditional grandeur, the artist brings the look front and center, transforming it into a charming mix of knowing consternation and humor, as the eyes trail comically after the poet as prey escaped stage right, almost in relief. Likewise, the dark wood is morphed into a daisy-filled meadow and the lion can relax and observe, the part of playing the menace over in an instant.
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