Stef Mitchell is one of those people who is so talented, it almost makes you want to puke. And if that’s not enough, she’s also incredibly humble, cool, and funny (in the best dark and twisted way). The 28-year-old artist and photographer from the “most boring suburb imaginable” in Sydney, Australia, now lives in New York and has her first solo show at Boo-Hooray Gallery in NYC on September 12.
The one-day-only exhibition is called “New Wives Tales: Drawings By Stef Mitchell” and will feature a collection of sketches that Mitchell did on notepads at Milk photo studios while working as a photo assistant. The drawings manage to be sexy and clever (not an easy thing to do!) without a lot of fuss. Limited-edition artists books, each of which will include an original drawing, will also be available.
We caught up with Mitchell for coffee at Cafe Mogador in New York City’s East Village to discuss her art and her photography. And her budding keyboard career.
Playboy: What did you doodle when you were a kid?
Stef Mitchell: I used to get coloring books and not color them in. I would just try and copy the big cartoon and other various rude things.
Playboy: Did other kids think you were a good drawer?
Mitchell: I don’t think I was ever a good drawer. Ever. It’s always looked the same. Kind of like shit. People like it now, but it’s certainly not something that people used to like.
Playboy: How would you describe your art?
Mitchell: I guess it’s quite lazy in a way. I have a short attention span. So I don’t like to spend too long on something. I don’t look at it and think this or that. When I’ve had enough, it’s done. It’s pretty spontaneous.
Playboy: How does your photography impact your drawing and vice versa?
Mitchell: I don’t know what the relationship is yet. I’ve definitely started experimenting with combining the two—drawing on the background or drawing on the photo, that kind of thing. But I don’t want to show anyone until I like it. I guess I approach them both the same way: unplanned and just do whatever feels good at the time. That’s pretty much the only similarity.
Playboy: Do you ever feel pressured to focus more on art or more on photography?
Mitchell: If I get annoyed with one thing, I switch to the other, and it takes my mind off of it. That’s why I draw. It makes me stop thinking about other things. It’s so simple and you just tune out. I think everyone has something like that. I don’t really feel pressured to do either. I love both so much so it’s cool.
Playboy: How did this book come about?
Mitchell: At Milk [Studios], they have free pens and paper that were always next to the computer. I would see something I liked on the computer before work started and I would just start drawing it. People started asking to have them. Then one day someone asked for a drawing and this guy I was working for Benny [Horne, a photographer] was like, “No, that’s a 100 bucks!” He pulled out 100 bucks and then says, “You can’t have it, because I just bought it.” He made it something. He made people think that it was maybe worth something, which was funny.
Anyway, I just kept doing a lot of [drawings]. I’ve got hundreds. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with them but I saw Mazdack Rassi [the founder of Milk Studios] walking around. I didn’t know him, but I just went up to him was like, hey, I’ve been doing these drawings and showed him. He was like, “Whoa I like that. That’s cool. Send me an email and let’s do something.” I think straightaway he was like let’s do a book.
Playboy: Had you always kept the drawings?
Mitchell: Not on purpose. I just had so many. The ones that are in the book are not necessarily my favorite ones. They’re just the ones that I grabbed to show the publisher and he was like we’re not editing it. There’s some interesting shit in there that may be offensive to some people.
Playboy: Who are the artists that inspire you right now?
Mitchell: Some of my all time favorites are Wes Lang and Brett Whiteley. A friend of mine from home Sam Holt is an amazing painter. I like Mike Mills as well. I want to draw more when I look at his stuff. I like it conceptually as well as what it looks like. Otis Carey, an aboriginal surfer, too.
Playboy: What about photographers?
Mitchell: Peter Lindbergh, Peter Beard. I like Annie [Leibovitz’s] older work, like from the Rolling Stones tour. Ryan McGinley has a cool thing going on. I’m also obsessed with Bill Henson, Hedi Slimane and Greg Harris. A lot of the stuff I like is a little more art photography rather than straight fashion.
Playboy: What do you like about New York City?
Mitchell: I like how you can walk down the street and no one looks at you. Where I grew up, I guess I look pretty fucking weird to people. Then you come here and everyone is nuts. They just don’t give a shit. You look on the street and every single person is doing something different constantly.
Playboy: What do you hate?
Mitchell: I get so mad when someone walks really close behind me. I get rage. I just step aside and am like, “Just go, just get off my ass.” And the heat. It feels like someone’s just punched you in the face. I guess that’s kind of it.
Playboy: What other projects do you have going on?
Mitchell: A lot of photo stuff. I’m shooting for a bunch of different people and that’s been great. I’ve been doing some stuff for I-D, and Russh magazine, I did some drawings for Miss Vogue. I shot something for T magazine and Urban Outfitters and Madewell. And I’m also trying to learn the keyboard to play in my friend’s wedding. I can only remember it by what my fingers look like. I can’t read music. It’s fucked. I have until April.
To see more of Stef Mitchell’s work, visit her website stefmitchellphoto.com.