Katherine Mitchell cut her artistic teeth as part of the Minimalist coterie that flourished at the Atlanta College of Art in the 1970s. Influenced by such movement patriarchs as Dorothea Rockburne and Sol LeWitt, she has made repetition and the grid cornerstones of her art.
Mitchell is given to working in series that spring from visual aperçus — the pattern of the stairs at the Whitney Museum, say, the path of the cobblestone streets seen from the windows of her studio during a residence in Germany, the undulation of currents in water.
In a departure from her usual modus operandi, the Atlanta artist has spent the last three years making drawings, paintings and collages inspired by reading and thinking. Words and numbers are the building blocks in “Correspondences, Conversations, and Text” at Sandler Hudson Gallery through Jan. 9.
Mitchell uses them every which way to create rich visual effects. Words appear in cursive and block printing. Numerals might be simple or stencil-style. They might appear as veils of marks, layered to suggest depth. In some pieces, they coil in spirals.
Though she limits color to black, white and gray (a reference to texts?) in many pieces, Mitchell deploys the hues so deftly to create and enhance the patterns that one hardly notices the absence of color in those works until it appears in another one.
The words in particular are barely legible. Mitchell’s taped recitations can be heard in the gallery, however, and written versions are available. They consist of quotations from and her responses to philosophers and artists. These are more like notebook entries than formal essays, efforts to clarify her own thoughts on the nature of art, beauty, truth.
Mitchell is hardly the first artist to use text as form. Her writing isn’t a forum for original thought or stunning epiphany. Yet her experimentation with words and numbers has produced some of her most visually satisfying work, and the recitation adds a revelatory intimacy to an oeuvre that usually hides its emotions beneath its meticulous, mathematical surface.
The exhibit demonstrates that, like a mantra — the chanted abstract sound and the title of one of Mitchell’s series — the methodical repetition of shapes and lines is, and always has been, the artist’s vehicle to her spiritual core.