Mitch Cairns (b. 1984) is a figurative painter and cartoonist with an eye for abstraction and notational use of line. He whittles away extraneous detail and gets down to basic libidinal pleasures of the vernacular in a reduced palette. His painting is neither tough nor trivial. He makes figure-ground relationships dance and language dance in the realm of poetry.
Cairns uses paint to point out how lived experience is quickly regurgitated as idiomatic expression. While several years ago, the motif of cigarette smoke filled the backgrounds of his canvases (Cairns’ sfumato, time without lines or hard edges like the studio time he so relishes) more recent works are characterised by spatially-urgent cubo-futurist faceting, benevolent fields of leaves or, as in his ongoing 2016 Geranium Pots series, a pictorially load-bearing margin of bricks and mortar.
Cairns was one of fourteen focus artists whose work was given a solo presentation in the larger exhibition Painting. More Painting at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne, curated by Max Delany, Annika Kristensen and Hannah Matthews. Painting. More Painting was the first major institutional survey of contemporary Australian painting to be staged in over a decade.
In 2015, Cairns presented The Reader’s Voice, a solo project exhibition at Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne, curated by Linda Michael. The Reader’s Voice was Cairns' first solo exhibition in a public institution. The exhibition comprised a large group of A4 Letraset and Zazzle sticker collages, a unique bronze and an artist book that documented a larger group of one hundred collages.
Cairns has had two solo exhibitions at The Commercial Gallery: his first exhibition of cartoons to accompany the launch of his book, Dip or Skinny Dip (2014), and a major new series of paintings, FINCHES (2015). In 2014, he produced a Drawing Wall commission, Studio Leak, for Shepparton Art Museum (curated by Elise Routledge). He presented three solo exhibitions at BREENSPACE, Sydney, before its closure in 2013 (2012, 2010, 2008). He has held solo exhibitions with TCB inc., Melbourne (2014), KALIMANRAWLINS, Melbourne (2013), BOXCOPY, Brisbane (2012), MOP Projects, Sydney (2006, 2007, 2008) and Locksmith Project Space, Sydney (2008). And a two-person exhibition at Society, Sydney, with Matthew Tumbers, curated by Susan Gibb (2012).
Selected group exhibitions include Outside Thoughts, a group exhibition with Emily Floyd, Darren Sylvester and Danie Mellor, curated by Wes Hill, at Contemporary Art Tasmania (March 2015), RELATIONSHIPPAL with Tim Silver and Susan Jacobs at BREENSPACE, Sydney (2013), Alpha Romeo, with Christopher Hanrahan and Nigel Milsom, curated by Matthys Gerber, at Peloton, Sydney (2010), They call them Pirates out here, curated by David Elliot, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney (2010); What I think of when I think about dancing, curated by Lisa Havilah and Susan Gibb, Campbelltown Arts Centre, Sydney (2009); Reality Check, curated by Daniel Mudie Cunningham, Hazelhurst Regional Art Gallery, Sydney (2009), The Shilo Project, curated by Chris McAuliffe, Ian Potter Museum, Melbourne (2009) and I am a Good Boy, curated by Elise Routledge, Firstdraft, Sydney (2008).
Cairns has twice been runner-up in the Archibald Prize at the Art Gallery New South Wales with both portraits being acquired by major public institutions: His 2015 portrait of fellow artist, Peter Powditch, was acquired by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, and his 2014 portrait of philanthropist, Reg Richardson was acquired by the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra.
He has been awarded a number of prizes and residencies as well as being a finalist in several prize exhibitions including, The Archibald Prize (2014, 2013), The Brett Whiteley Traveling Art Scholarship (2012) which included a residency at the Cité internationale des arts, Paris (2013) and the Linden Art Prize (winner postcard prize), Linden Contemporary, Melbourne (2012). He has been a finalist in the Geelong Contemporary Art Prize (2014), the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize (2013, 2010), the Fishers Ghost Art Prize, Campbelltown Arts Centre, Sydney (2011), the Helen Lampriere Traveling Scholarship, Artspace, Sydney (2009, 2007, 2006), the John Olsen Drawing Prize (2005), the Gruner Landscape Prize at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (2004, 2003).
In 2006, Cairns completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Honours) in painting at the National Art School in Sydney where he currently sits on the Academic Board. Between 2005 and 2007, Cairns was studio assistant to the late Adam Cullen.
Cairns co-founded ‘The Cosmic Battle for your Heart’ with Kelly Doley, Brian Fuata and Agatha Gothe-Snape, an artist-run space based in Sydney (2009–11), a survey of which, called Eastern Seaboard, was exhibited at Artspace, Sydney, curated by Reuben Keehan and Melanie Oliver (2011).
His work is held in the collections of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Artbank, Deloitte, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney (Ergas Collection), the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, and Wollongong University Art Collection.