Ellie Horton, Feature Editor

Envision a soft baby face with long, curled lashes and glassy, questioning blue eyes wearing a glowing red helmet with a bar code imprinted on its forehead. Next, picture, on the back of a crisp dollar bill, something similar to the wise all seeing Eye of Providence. Lastly, imagine a macro view of a computer chip, the kind that will soon be embedded into human skin to replace ID cards. To most, these images are arbitrary objects and figures, seemingly unrelated and insignificant. Yet, for Mark Mitchell, they’re art.

Surprisingly, the three imageries described are the framework for an intriguing piece crafted by Mitchell himself. Mitchell is a conceptual pop artist. With art, most people are prone to thinking of those like Claude Monet, Francisco Goya and Leonardo Da Vinci and their elegant, refined and vivid works. Though Mitchell’s are splashed with color and dazzling detail, they aren’t merely about beauty.

Mitchell has been fascinated with art ever since he knew what the intricate skill was. He believes that artists are born with a tendency to create and their brains are wired to express that urge in any possible way.

“I’ve always been drawing and fascinated by art, music and creative expression,” Mitchell states.

While Mitchell was first consumed with cartoons and caricatures as a child, he focused his career on graphic design and illustration in college. His true calling all along, however, has been full-time fine artistry.

His fine art career has not focused on painting pretty pictures. The substance of Mitchell’s paintings are filled with irony, contradiction, parallels and harmony.

“My work is kind of a hybrid between classic pop art, surrealism and some of the more daring street art. I like to combine and juxtapose imagery in new and intriguing ways as a way of capturing the imagination while conveying some meaningful subtext,” Mitchell said.

As for his inspiration for his striking yet perplexing work, he says it originates simply from the world around him. Whether it’s a song, news story, current event, social trend or technology it comes from, “anything that strikes a chord with me and elicits a desire to share my perspective,” Mitchell says.

Stop for a moment and think back to the figures first describe. They aren’t a random cluster of objects. It’s Mitchell’s latest painting called “Information Age.”

The eye of providence represents the invading habits of the government into citizen’s personal lives and information. The computer chip, though magnified in the painting, in the real world is the size of a grain of rice and is embedded into skin. It contains much of their personal information, all of which the government would love to acquire. The baby, with wide eyes, is waking up to this new invaded, monitored and recorded world. The barcode symbolizes the loss of personal identity and privacy being transformed into a mere specimen of the government. The red helmet and the background of the painting, which represents an oversized fingerprint, elude to the pitfalls of invasion.

“What turns me on most about creating my own art is the ability to surprise the viewer, and the platform it allows me to freely express my perspective on things,” Mitchell says.

“Information Age” is the foreground and overarching theme for a gallery coming to Florida Southern College at the Melvin Gallery called Hidden Agenda.

On the surface, Mitchell’s works are very alluring and accessible, yet as the viewer peers into the real meaning of the piece they can learn why he has chosen the specific subjects and how the messages relate to pop art and the mass media, says Alexander Rich, Florida Southern College assistant professor of art history and director of the FSC Melvin Gallery.

“It’s impossible to take Mark’s work simply at its face value. There is a slyness to the selections and juxtapositions of familiar icons he proposes. As a result, the ‘why’ becomes almost as important, and perhaps even more important, than the ‘what,’” Rich said.

Though art may seem a thing of the past and uninteresting to the millennial age, any student engaged in the media-saturated culture will discover some sort of personal meaning in Mitchell’s art.

“This is as close to art-of-the-moment as you can get,” Rich says. “Mark is inviting you to delve more deeply into the work on display, encouraging you to seek out more than that which meets the eye.”

The Hidden Agenda viewing will be displayed in a way unlike any other that has been presented in the Melvin Gallery, because it offers a truly immersive environment. Though some works will be hung on the wall, as is traditional to art galleries, other works will be fully installed – having been created on site by Mitchell – and spilling out into the physical space of the gallery, Rich says.

“While Mark’s works are visually stimulating in themselves, any viewer who sees his work as only pop art would be missing out on the deeper intentionality of the work,” Rich explains. “Every viewer will react to Mark’s work differently, but all viewers will also be left contemplating how his works resonate deeply in their own media-inundated lives.”

Hidden Agenda, the conceptual pop art of Mark Mitchell, will be open from Jan. 22 to Feb. 19 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The event is free and open to the public.

“While most people would appreciate the technical craftsmanship of it, it really isn’t for everyone,” Mitchell says. “It seems to find its own audience, like the ones that are willing to take a few moments and soak it in, let their minds make connections, find meaning, and ultimately see differently some aspect of the world in which we live. I think that’s one of the greatest things art can do.”