Mitch Cairns (b. 1984, lives Sydney) 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. His compositions are filled with a shifting register of motifs: cigarette smoke (Cairns’ sfumato, time without lines or hard edges like the studio time he so relishes), spatially-urgent cubo-futurist faceting, benevolent fields of leaves or, as in his 2016 Geranium Pots series, a pictorially load-bearing margin of bricks and mortar (a reference to his father’s trade).

Cairns was awarded the 2017 Archibald Prize for his portrait of fellow artist and partner, Agatha Gothe-Snape. 2017 was the fourth time that he has been a finalist in the high-profile prize at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. The winning 2017 portrait was acquired by Monash Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne, while the runner-up portraits of Reg Richardson (2014) and Peter Powditch (2015) were acquired by the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, and the Art Gallery of NSW, respectively.

Cairns was one of fourteen focus artists whose work was given an in-depth solo presentation in the 2016 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, Zazzle sticker and Dulux colour sample collages, a unique bronze and an artist book that documented a larger group of one hundred collages.

Cairns has been invited to curate the 2019 Primavera: Young Australian Artist exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. Primavera is the MCA’s annual exhibition of young Australian artists aged 35 and under. Since 1992, the Primavera series has showcased the works of artists in the early stages of their career.

Cairns has had four solo exhibitions at The Commercial: his first exhibition of cartoons to accompany the launch of his book, Dip or Skinny Dip (2014), and three exhibitions featuring major new series of paintings, Soliloquy Workshop (2018), Stray Geranium (2016) and 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).

Selected group exhibitions include Grounded: Contemporary Australian Art, NAS Gallery, Sydney (2017); Game, Bowerbank Ninow, Auckland (2017); Painting. More Painting, at the ACCA, Melbourne (2016); Outside Thoughts, curated by Wes Hill, at Contemporary Art Tasmania (2015), RELATIONSHIPPAL with Tim Silver and Susan Jacobs at BREENSPACE, Sydney (2013), They call them Pirates out here, curated by David Elliot, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (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) and The Shilo Project, curated by Chris McAuliffe, Ian Potter Museum, Melbourne (2009).

He has been awarded a number of prizes and residencies as well as being a finalist in several prize exhibitions including, The Archibald Prize (2017, 2015, 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 Arthur Guy Memorial Prize (2017); Geelong Contemporary Art Prize (2017, 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).

His work is held in the collections of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Artbank, Deloitte, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne, Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne, the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney (donation from Ergas Collection), the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, and Wollongong University Art Collection.

Mitch Cairns is alumnus of the National Art School, Sydney, where he currently sits on the Academic Board.


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