Stainspotting: An Exhibition by Ben Mitchell

Words: Tahlia Sanders

I must admit, when I first visited The Bird to view Ben Mitchell’s pop-up exhibition, Stainspotting, I failed to appreciate the full meaning of the art. Perhaps because I’ve become used to exhibitions that aim to explicitly force the viewer into introspection or to overwhelm them with superfluous details. Comparatively, walking into The Bird to find four pieces of art hanging above mostly empty booths, making their debut on a quiet Monday night, made this exhibition feel almost crude.

Stainspotting is a series of drawings and paintings on paper made from pulped and torn train tickets, created to capture the essence of fellow commuters on public transport. At first, I found this idea a little too simple and tried to force a deeper meaning. However, upon discussing the art a little further with the artist, I realised the true value of his pieces comes from their having captured something that we all encounter on a daily basis and the fact that he hasn’t tried to force it to be any more than what it is.

Stainspotting grew from Mitchell’s love of conjuring figures out of lines and dots on paper. He told me that he saw his daily commutes between his studio and his day job as an opportunity to capture the vivid characters that ebb and flow around us on a daily basis, but who are rarely still for long enough to be drawn. Mitchell would etch the likeness of these fascinating figures onto his train ticket and store them in his travel journal, where they sat for quite a while.

Recently, Mitchell decided to craft something bigger from his doodles and began the process of laboriously transferring his drawings onto pulped ticket paper using photocopies and tracing paper. Ben told me that he enjoyed the stark contrast of this long, intricate process compared to the rushed composition of the initial sketches.

Mitchell hopes that those who view his art might be able to recognise a little of themselves in each of the characters he has produced; that they, like him, might see beauty in the humanity and pathos of strangers.

For those who enjoyed Ben Mitchell’s work on Stainspotting, you can look forward to a future body of work exploring the aesthetics of decay and rust on the exteriors of cargo trains and metal shipping containers.

Stainspotting is on display at The Bird until October 17th.