Charleston painter Katy Mixon can find inspiration in nearly anything—even a peach pit plucked from the sidewalk. “I collect random objects along my walks,” she notes, pointing to the textural leaves, seeds and pine cones lining the shelves of her Wagener Terrace studio, a roomy work space in a converted 1920s ExxonMobil office. Just a short distance away is historic Magnolia Cemetery, which Mixon likes to visit for a break in the day. “It’s green and on the water, with beautiful old headstones,” she says of the marsh-side setting, quite the contrast to her former Brooklyn environs.
Since her move South in 2019, the languid Lowcountry topography has been making an impression. “I’m working on a painting that feels quite aquatic; I pick up on whatever landscape I’m working in,” she notes. “Tone. Subject. It’s all drawn from what’s around me.” So, too, has Mixon’s color palette shifted since her return to the Carolinas of her youth. “My pieces are brighter than before; there’s such great natural light here.”
Following landscape studies, some inspired by floods and wildfires (“Climate change is local news now,” she says), Mixon begins each painting by layering monochromatic oil pigments—“cadmiums, ochres, siennas, umbers”—onto wood panels she then carves up using traditional wood-working tools. As she etches into each painting, Mixon is careful to collect and cache every lifted segment. Crucially, these tiny fragments are later assembled and installed together as site-specific amalgamations—auxiliary works to the paintings that first forged them. But these do not represent the artist’s only stab at sustainability, as she’s started to explore other ways of repurposing studio materials. Partly inspired by a Gee’s Bend quilt she saw at Atlanta’s High Museum of Art, as well as the sewing handiwork of her grandmothers, Mixon, who earned her MFA at UNC Chapel Hill, began saving the colorful muslin cloths used for painting cleanup—then turning them into quilts. One is currently on its way to Charlotte’s The Mint Museum for a September exhibition, “Break the Mold: New Takes on Traditional Art Making.”
“These pieces come out of the paintings, broadening the idea of what the work is and making the creative process visible,” Mixon affirms, eying the shelf of curiosities from her strolls. Having grown up in an agricultural family in Orangeburg, South Carolina, she’s come to view her own practice as cyclical or seasonal, much like farming. The first part of this year she devoted to painting (or “planting”), while the coming months will bring sculpture and quilting (or “harvesting”). “I used to see them as separate interests,” she notes, “but now I understand that they all fit together.”