Dusty Mitchell was not only surprised to have been cut from Wednesday's episode of Work of Art, but he was also pretty upset. He stands by his portrait of a child made entirely out of candy as a winning work. "I don't really understand why the judges felt like it needed to be laced with conceptuality," Mitchell, 32, said. "It is a portrait. I think the combination of materials and image provided a sufficient amount of substance that went far beyond a gimmick."
Mitchell, who works as an installation artist, sculptor and art teacher in Arkansas, opened up to TVGuide.com about his feelings toward his competitors' portraits, his problem with judge Jerry Saltz's critiques and what's next for him. Plus, his thoughts on having to wear Young's short shorts!
You said you were surprised to be sent home. Were there other pieces that you felt didn't work as well as yours?
Dusty Mitchell: Yeah. I think Kymia had the best piece and deserved to win the challenge. I think my piece was next. It captured the identity of my subject; it reflected her appropriately. It worked as a portrait and captured the temporary nature of youth. I think Young's idea was good but his execution is this case was a strange combo of being too cluttered and too clean at the same time. Also, other than including the painting that [Young's subject] Terrance did, the piece didn't really offer any personal info about the subject. Lola's piece didn't feel like a portrait to me. It felt more like a historical museum display about currency. And Sara J's work was heartfelt, but I think the presentation/3D composition wasn't great.
Do you think it was fair that the judges labeled your piece "gimmicky"?
Mitchell: You can make a case that it is gimmicky, I guess. If you are looking for a reason, you can take a positive or negative stance on any piece. I suppose "gimmicky" would be the downside of my piece. The upside would be that it was an honest and appropriate work that captured the spirit of the child being depicted. The materials related to the image and identity of the piece. They suggested a feeling of "temporary-ness" and looked, smelled, and even tasted like being a kid, and the color palette reflected the energy and attitude of Mairead. Perhaps most important though, it fulfilled the challenge exactly.
You had another idea that you ultimately ditched. Why did you change your mind again?
Mitchell: The other idea was OK, but not necessarily better. It was different and would have ended up looking more like drawing or painting, which could have worked in my favor, but ultimately it would not have been better, nor would I have had time to finish it. I knew I was running the risk of repeating a past work, but, if you remember, the [self portrait] was not for a challenge and wasn't up for criticism by the judges. And as for the clown piece, I didn't really expect that piece to come up in the discussion. I really didn't like that piece and just kind of deleted it from my thinking after it got me through. Unfortunately, that's what the candy piece reminded Jerry of. Anyway, I felt like I was changing ideas just because that is what the judges would want me to do, and that is basically a sell-out reason to change ideas. So I decided to stick with my instinct and use my original idea. Hence, the backfire.
Do you think your subject — a child — hurt you with the judges?
Mitchell: Well, the first thing Jerry said in my critique was, "When I found out what the challenge was, I knew you were going to find a kid, and do a portrait of them," or something very close to that. So I thought, "Great, here we go." You never know with the judges. I do know this, though: If you are critiquing someone's work, the easiest thing to say if you're not feeling it, or don't like it, or are not sure what to say, is to tell them that they could have done the opposite. In this case, they basically said that I wasn't taking a risk by choosing a child as a subject. That it was predictable.
There is a mysterious line somewhere that separates using your strengths as an artist, and taking risks that could result in terrible work. Particularly with Jerry. I'm not sure why it was so important to him that we take these huge leaps out of our comfort zone. He has said on more than one occasion that he feels like we should be willing to fail flamboyantly, on a grand scale. I think we have checked that requirement off the list by being on national television, and participating in the competition to begin with. I think at times he felt like he was our teacher, trying to push us in new directions. I wasn't in the competition to go to school. I've been to school. I can go in new directions with my work according to my own time line. I don't need Jerry to push me in 50 directions within a time frame of a few weeks. That doesn't make sense to me. It shouldn't make sense. The format of the challenges and the competition in general is disconnected with art-making in reality without Jerry piling on that unwritten rule within the context of the show. I feel like the artists were brought to the show to do their thing, be judged, and see who is the most successful.
What happened after Lola complained that it was unfair that the judges enjoyed the unintentional falling candy? Did you talk with her while the judges deliberated?
Mitchell: Nope. She thought it was lucky for me that the judges liked that aspect of the piece I guess. She thought I had no intention of the pieces falling. The truth about the falling candy is this: I knew some would fall. I couldn't (and didn't) know how many would fall and how fast they would fall. I chose not to have them cleaned up, I chose to just let them fall. So no, I didn't know that it would be like a constant stream of falling pieces throughout the exhibition, but yes, I did know at least some would fall and I chose before the opening to just let them fall. Whatever — it doesn't matter now does it?
Which piece was your favorite to create during the competition?
Mitchell: [My] favorite to make was easily the street art piece Young and I made. We worked all night under the Manhattan bridge up on scaffolding. We had a great view of the city, the weather was great, and we had great idea. That was a night I will never forget. It's not every day that I am making a 40-ft. piece of art at 2 a.m. in New York City. I can still hear the train going by on the bridge every minute.
What did your wife have to say about seeing you in Young's short shorts? Have you since bought a pair?
Mitchell: She got a good laugh out of it. I have a pair of really short cut-off jeans that I wear to the lake as a joke during the summer. She calls them my "jorts" (short for jean shorts). So for her it wasn't as shocking as it was to most others. The night that episode aired, I sent a picture of me in my jorts to Young.
What are you currently working on?
Mitchell: Since I've been back, I've just been working and teaching. I have many art opportunities that are appearing on the horizon, but no confirmed dates for shows or anything right now. Sweet T is pregnant again, so we are expecting another baby in May which is exciting. We are looking to move to a bigger house. I'm kind of in a reset mode with everything it seems like. My family life is about to kind of restart with the new baby coming, and my art career is in a state of rebirth as well. I can feel that there are big changes coming in both aspects of my life. It's a good feeling to have.