Mitch Cairns is a maker of pictures. His figurative paintings speak a vernacular of agile invention, image-ideas quickly observed from life. Surfaces within pictorial spaces are opportunities for exercises in abstraction where form is sculpted tonally and rhythmically. Areas of shifting patterning crafted from veils of oil paint sit over and adjacent to thicker expanses of pure colour.

Text and language are equal materials for Cairns’ excursions in picture-making and extend to his print making and collage practice. Illegible anagrams, concrete poetry rendered in Letraset, screen-printed short stories and titles for paintings are forms with which to play, forays for further idiomatic, autobiographical and exclamatory expression.

Cairns was awarded the 2017 Archibald Prize for his portrait of fellow artist and partner, Agatha Gothe-Snape. He was invited to curate the 2019 Primavera: Young Australian Artist exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia.

Selected group exhibitions include The 2022 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art: Free/State, curated by Sebastian Goldspink, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide; The National: New Australian Art, Carriageworks, Sydney (2021); This is a Poem, Buxton Contemporary, Melbourne (2021); Grounded: Contemporary Australian Art, NAS Gallery, Sydney (2017); Game, Bowerbank Ninow, Auckland (2017); Painting. More Painting, at the ACCA, Melbourne (2016).

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).

Mitch Cairns' work is held in the collections of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 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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