An Eerie Resemblance. Written by Johnston M. Mitchell.

I posted the below writing by my husband, Johnston M. Mitchell, because of the fountain of information it delivers about my work.


An Eerie Resemblance.

A prefacing thought: I am hesitant in writing this post as the husband of the contemporary artist about to be compared to the world’s most renowned artist. But, here goes.

During the 10 years that our gallery has been operating, I have heard many visitors’ comment along the line of, “They (the paintings) remind me of Van Gogh.”

While many distinctions between Van Gogh and my wife can be made, some common traits do exist.

Subject matter. Sun-drenched summer landscapes. Autumn’s fields at harvest. Sunflowers. Iris. And Poppies.

Palette. Van Gogh pushed ahead of his fellow artists and experimented with brighter hues. He used color to seize on his mood and emotions. “Instead of trying to paint exactly what I see before me, I make more arbitrary use of color to express myself more forcefully,” Van Gogh said.

Brenda – well she loves her reds, and her colors some times seem almost neon. She, too, uses color to shape mood and a viewer’s interpretation. Inside art history, Brenda’s joyous use of brighter colors resembles the Fauves, who followed Van Gogh as part of the Expressionist movement. Put yourself behind Brenda’s eyes. Think of when you’ve gone inside a building too quickly on a bright summer day and your eyes didn’t adjust. A kaleidoscope of colors erupts and overwhelms you. You squint. Your eyes get lost in a glare.

Mark Making. Some characteristics of Brenda’s mark making parallel those of Van Gogh. There is the forceful or almost sculpted mark making like Impasto – a thick layer of paint that adds a third dimension, reveals the artist’s expressiveness, and helps the artist control how light plays out on the painting itself. Other common mark making techniques include being “painterly” … the use of raw brush strokes; the layering of strokes to create undertones and depth; and the use of outlining and underpainting to create texture and contrast. All of these traits somehow have made their way through fine art’s timeline to Brenda’s brush.

Painting on location, now referred to as Plein Air or Air Alfresco. Van Gogh took to painting outside when pigments became available in tubes. The invention of the portable easel also played a part in moving artists to paint on location. Brenda uses an old suitcase to store and haul her paints, and uses an easel for larger canvas works. When it comes to painting small to medium size wood pieces or on arches paper (taped to masonite board), Brenda likes propping these up on a folding vinyl chair. She likes being able to see the perspective that she is painting at all times, rather than looking around to either side.

Brenda on location at the Treat Farm south of Empire, Michigan.

Detail of her painting at the Treat Farm.

Brenda on location in Leelanau County, Michigan on Jelinek Road.

Tempo. Some say Van Gogh was manic, while a new study of his works suggests that he was more so very methodical and goal-oriented. Brenda prefers to paint quickly. Her faster pace produces a spontaneity that drives her emotions and helps her capture a scene before the light or weather changes.

Being Prolific. Van Gogh’s production continues to astound people. During the last couple years of his life, he completed many of his most famous paintings. In all, he produced over 2,100 works. Brenda certainly can be prolific. Currently, she is painting the dormant farms and homesteads in the Port Oneida Historic Rural District within the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Leelanau County, Michigan. During one span a few weeks back, she painted five of these farmscapes, medium to large size, in as many days. She usually paints four to five times a week during summer and fall, and continues to paint outside in the elements throughout winter and spring. 

Van Gogh’s included Paul Gauguin and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. And Brenda? Well… one spring day several years ago our largest patron was visiting the gallery prior to purchasing his collection of Brenda’s work. He was searching to learn more about Brenda’s background and asked, “Do you have any contemporaries?”

In her down-to-earth, almost naïve Midwestern way, Brenda replied, “No, not really.”

“Really!” he responded with just a little bit of astonishment tucked inside his British accent.

“Well, there’s Van Gogh,” she said modestly.

Not a bad contemporary, even if a century passed between their lives.


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