Ascendant photographer Tyler Mitchell’s meteoric London debut at Gagosian lays the groundwork for a UK breakout


Tyler Mitchell has unveiled his latest Black utopia portraits at Gagosian Davies Street, marking his first UK solo exhibition and setting the stage for a busy season in London for the artist.

On view until November 12, the “chrysalis” photographs offer a counter-narrative for black people that erases historical trauma, capturing young black bodies in an idyll of nature and recreation, surreal and serene.

Of Greek origin khrysallis, the name refers to the stage in a butterfly’s life cycle where, enclosed in a cocoon, metamorphosis and maturation take place before it emerges into its final form.

It speaks to the essence of Mitchell’s show, which portrays black men and women on the cusp of adulthood, and also finds a parallel in the artist’s career – Mitchell has matured rapidly since his early days in as a commercial photographer in 2018.and is now a respected voice in conceptual photography, whose work will grace the walls of Frieze Masters, the Saatchi Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum, all before the end of the season.

Tyler Mitchell, Chrysalis (2022). © Tyler Mitchell. Image courtesy of the artist, Jack Shainman Gallery and Gagosian.

The photographs capture protagonists both posed and relaxed, whether in resting, reclining and hanging positions, or in mid-movement; swim, splash and play with the natural elements of earth, sky and water. “Collectively, these become the fruit of an imaginative and psychic state of being, a state in which radiance, resilience, restraint, comfort, and full agency exist,” Mitchell said of his work in a press release.

Part fantasy, part reality, Mitchell’s cinematic dreamscapes create a space where dark-skinned bodies are free to exist in ways they still cannot in contemporary America, happily positioning themselves in any scenario they like, without being encumbered by social prejudice.

In Cage, a young black woman is lying, good-natured, leaning on the grass, her legs crossed nonchalantly in the air, against a painted background of a garden enclosed by a white palisade. In A glimmer of possibilitya young male figure hanging from a swing, resting in balance as he contemplates his reverberating reflection on the surface of a lake, while Walk shows the head of a boy emerging from the water, flanked by a group of balloons.

Tyler Mitchell, A Glimmer of Possibility (2022).  © Tyler Mitchell.  Image courtesy of the artist, Jack Shainman Gallery and Gagosian.

Tyler Mitchell, A glimmer of possibility (2022). © Tyler Mitchell. Image courtesy of the artist, Jack Shainman Gallery and Gagosian.

Though surreal, Mitchell’s illusory world constructs an optimistic view, of subjects living freely in outer space, of a carefree, dreamy youth many of whom are deprived due to historical, economic, and social exclusion. No work presents this quite like Mitchell’s simply flimsy. Representing a bare-chested young man leaning on a square of grass near a bordering water, he fixes a lowered, squinted gaze on a beetle resting fleetingly on the tip of his nose, expressing a moment of harmony.

“Tyler grew up in Atlanta, so he reflects on Black people’s relationships with the land, historical and present, and how those relationships are both real and mythical,” gallery director Antwaun Sargent told Artnet News. , adding that the artist reflects on “the duality around black identity, and how different movements, black gestures, have been interpreted in very different ways.

Tyler Mitchell, Tenderly (2022).  © Tyler Mitchell.  Image courtesy of the artist, Jack Shainman Gallery and Gagosian.

Tyler Mitchell, Tenderly (2022). © Tyler Mitchell. Image courtesy of the artist, Jack Shainman Gallery and Gagosian.

Indeed, juxtaposed with these images of subjects in harmony with nature, smaller images combine in diptychs depicting figures wading, swimming and thrashing in muddy waters, giving off a palpable sense of danger, which pervades the experience. green spaces, affirming the need to stay alert and do not walk, for example, in someone else’s yard. In expressionism The heart, Mitchell depicts a boy half-submerged under a layer of sediment, lying horizontally with his eyes closed. In Rapturea hand sticks out of rippling muddy water, implying a sense of struggle.

As for the triptych Protects from all the elementsit simultaneously calls upon elements of harmony and struggle, as a figure pulls a background of painted sky to envelop a coffin-like structure containing plowed earth.

The exposure positioned Mitchell, who became an established name in the United States, to break into London. He will be one of the central artists in Sargent’s exhibition “The New Black Vanguard,at the Saatchi Gallery, and later this week new works will debut in Regent Park as the “first contemporary artist to be commissioned by Frieze Masters”, according to Sargent. In addition to hosting a night of art and film at the V&A, these elements set the stage well for what Sargent calls the “London takeover of one of the defining photographers of his generation”.

Tyler Mitchell: Chrysalisis on view until November 12 at Gagosian Davies Street, London.

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