Local Talent

June 4, 2014

Mitch D’Arte; An Artful Life


During a recent cold and drizzly afternoon, I met Mitch D’Arte at her 1930s cottage-style home near downtown McAllen.  The artist’s name, the figure of Don Quixote outside the home, and the hand-painted terra-cotta tiles on the front porch, made it evident I was not going to meet just an artist, but someone who embodies art itself.  Mitch opens the door, and welcomes me into her warm and soft-lit home. My eyes jump from one art piece to another. Human mini mannequins lined along the rustic dining table flank my way as I follow Mitch to her studio where the vibrant colors throughout fuse with Mitch’s unfolding personality. Her signature reclaimed leather cuffs, the large religious paintings, images of skeletons and bleeding hearts, are manifestations of Mitch’s devotion to beauty.  It was cold, so we move back to the house to a quaint sitting area surrounded by windows dressed in Mitch’s hand-painted shades featuring El Corazon and La Sirena; popular Mexican folk characters from a centuries old board game where we begin our chat.
Mitch was born in Hidalgo, Texas, where she currently teaches art in the same middle school she attended as a young girl. She earned an advertising degree from the University of Texas – Pan American, but went into teaching because at that time, she said, advertising jobs did not abound. That was 22 years ago. Her passion for recycling sprung from a teaching project that morphed into Uno by Mitch; her collection of reclaimed leather cuffs adorned with silver and semi-precious stones. On weekends, she hunts for leather belts at local flea markets. “Growing up poor has given me a fondness and connection to all things humble which provoke emotions. Things that show evidence of the past and traces of the human spirit; I am amazed at the beauty I find in people’s discarded items,” said an enthused Mitch. To promote her work, she tapped on dormant advertising skills, taught herself computer graphics, and used social media to connect with potential clients.

It has only been a couple of years since Mitch started painting religious portraits of the Madonna, and I had to ask why after all those years. Her face suddenly changed, as she tried to hold back tears. “It was after my mother passed away that I began painting because I knew it would make her proud, and it helped me deal with the pain.” It was her mother who instilled the love of culture and spirituality in Mitch; a self-proclaimed lover of all things raza (race), but one who said her faith nor her art define her. Mitch brings an interesting concept to her paintings: they appear unfinished, for she allows the viewer to participate in its completion; she considers it an exercise in mind and spirit.

Mitch, along with a business partner, has since opened a studio in Houston, where she reaches to a totally different market. “People there devour everything that has to do with Mexican culture.” With simmering passion, Mitch expressed concern about Hispanics in the valley not embracing their heritage. “San Antonio is all about embracing the culture. Imagine if we were to embrace it; everything would be so different!” Embracing her culture is what got Mitch first place, and ten thousand dollars at a Dr. Pepper graphic design contest called Sabrosura Latina.

This year will be the first time Mitch participates in a trunk show at the Houston Galleria thanks to a program that encourages vendors to sponsor an artist of their choice. Mitch’s life is art, and she has no intention of quitting. She is also working on introducing the “Open Studio” concept she adopted from the Houston art scene where studios open on certain evenings allowing art patrons to network and learn about the artist and his work.

She wishes valley cities would support more art venues and events. “People are hungry for the arts, because art is the soul of a community.  I don’t want to be in Houston. The valley is my source of inspiration and my resources are here. I want to share my work with my people.”  Her advice to young artists is to do things from the heart, and not for fame and money. To hold on to what they know because that is what will make them. “You can’t change who you are,” she affirmed.

Night has come, and a more relaxed and cheerful Mitch walks me to the door and tells me about code-switching. My expression begged to hear more, so she continued. “We Hispanics can switch between English and Spanish fast,” she said. “Nobody else can do that. How can you not love that? That’s raza and I love raza stuff!”

For more on Mitch visit www.unobymitch.com

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About the Author

Tapia - Gonzales
La Vida Valle is where I write about "la vida" living in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Life, art and culture, poetry, prayers, travel, and camping! yes, that's my new thing. I blame the heat and high humidity for the madness. Contributions and comments are always welcome .

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