Collecting: Laurie Mitchell and Brent Woods


Laurie Mitchell and dog Izzy in front of
three untitled 2004 paintings by Kim MacConnel

Laurie Mitchell and Brent Woods’ home sits tucked away surrounded by trees and hedges in the historic Bankers Hill neighborhood, minutes from downtown San Diego. Upon entering the Craftsman house, light and color flood the senses. Ample windows allow light to pour in, and almost every space is filled with bold colorful artwork. White paint sets an ideal backdrop for the couple’s collection of predominantly San Diego-based contemporary artists. Art is displayed in a non-pretentious and often humorous manner, defying a pristine gallery setting. Observes Derrick Cartwright, Director of USD’s Galleries: “They live with their art in a way that impresses me.”

SD-based architect Jennifer Luce (featured in MCASD’s 2009 “MIX” exhibition) injected the home with a dose of modernism through custom, minimalist furniture and architectural elements throughout the house. A built-in dining console chronicles the couple’s marriage using symbolic components, and displays SD-based David Adey’s New Lamb (2011). A massive floor-to-ceiling glass door opens to a landscape flanked with olive trees and includes an infinity pool overlooking a canyon.

Art is encountered in unexpected corners and on unconventional surfaces-in the powder room, in their children’s bedrooms, and on bookshelves mixed with novels and family photos. On the kitchen counter sits two trophy sculptures, Woody Teapot (2000) and Owl Tree (2004), by SD-based ceramist Jeff Irwin. Each morning over breakfast the family is greeted by Heather Gwen Martin’s Blind Spots (2009): an acidic-hued abstract painting that Mitchell and Woods purchased at the Luis de Jesus Gallery, before it relocated from SD to LA. Of Martin, Mitchell explains, “It will be so interesting to see how she evolves… There’re so many influences. You can see Arshile Gorky or something surreal with the smaller bits. But it’s still completely original. Her use of color is fantastic. How can you not get a jolt of happiness from being around that?”

Nearby hangs SD-based Allison Wiese’s Security Camera (unlimited network), (2005), a faux wall-mounted security camera constructed of wood blocks, complete with blinking lights. Mitchell laughs, “It’s pretty funny to feel constantly watched.” Meanwhile, the powder room contains works by SD-based artists Kelsey Brookes, Jean Lowe and Jeff Irwin. Two pieces from Brookes’ Candy Blizzard (2009) series rest above Jean Lowe’s painting, First Place American Irritation Foundation, (2001), while an additional Brookes work, depicting a wave, strategically hangs above the toilet. Considering Brookes, Mitchell notes, “These are a little different than what he’s doing now, but I think they are just incredibly charming and beautiful.” A Jeff Irwin commission produced Sprouting Wall (2010), in which white ceramic birds and branches travel up a corner jutting out from the walls.

In their second daughter’s bedroom, paintings by Heather Gwen Martin and Mark Mulroney stand out. It’s no surprise that their daughter recently became an art history major thriving in her contemporary art class at college, considering her home environment where interaction with art is encouraged. An installation by SD-based Tom Driscoll, Toy Pieces, (2006) purchased through Quint Contemporary Art, covers the corner walls of the living room. Driscoll used discarded computer mice to create molds and render the colorful minimal sculpture. Mitchell enthuses, “They have the most wonderful texture and surface-you should touch them.”

Blah, Blah, Blah
Mel Bochner
Monoprint with collage, engraving and embossment
on hand-dyed Twinrocker handmade paper
Photo: courtesy Quint Contemporary Art

For their own careers, Mitchell practiced medicine as a pediatrician while Woods works at a financial services firm; for the past 19 years, they have raised their three children amid their ever-expanding art collection. Mitchell maintains that collecting is a lifelong process and passion. The collection is a joint venture, but it is largely Mitchell’s vision. As she observes, “We don’t always have the same taste and I think one of the mistakes we made when we were first married is that we would buy things that were a compromise… I think we’ve gotten away from that.” Woods and Mitchell avoid storing art, a tough constraint as the collection grows. “I have to cull and decide if I want to bring something new in and what does that mean if something has to go. That is really hard, and makes it a challenge.”

Woods’ and Mitchell’s involvement in the San Diego art community is extensive and far reaching, from their support of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD), New Children’s Museum (NCM), San Diego Museum of Art (SDMA), Mingei International Museum, Athenaeum Music & Arts Library, to the new Central Library Art Gallery. Mitchell sits on various museum boards and is Chair of the City’s Public Art Program for the Commission for Arts and Culture.

Lately the couple has found more time to travel to LA and NY; they recently attended Art Basel Miami where they acquired a stunning large-scale Brian Calvin painting, Vanishing Horizon (2013). “A lot of people compare him to Alex Katz because he has a similar approach of stylizing his figures and faces,” Mitchell says, describing her attraction to the work. Yet, “he’s incredibly original at the same time that you can see influences. The work has this wonderful rawness and elegance.” On the adjacent wall in the family room, an intimate painting by SD-based artist Ernest Silva, done in Silva’s style reminiscent of old story book covers, shares a wall with Tom Driscoll’s Museum Find (2011). Says Mitchell of the Driscoll piece, “He’s so funny about it because he was in the MCASD bathroom and he saw this plastic form in their trash and pulled it out. He said he kind of felt like he stole from MCASD. He took this thing and that was the mold for this little piece.” The three works visually connect through a blue palette.Of their children, Mitchell notes, “They are all so proud of the house-they love having friends come over and taking pictures of the art and sharing them on Instagram. They are now at an age too where they’ve gone to LA, and have participated in some of the decisions.”

SD-based artist Roman de Salvo was commissioned to create the light fixture or ‘chandelier’ hanging in the front hall. The result was the maze-like For Your Foyer (2010), pieced together from electrical conduit and clear industrial light bulbs similar to a previous site-specific installation he created for MCASD’s downtown space. The scale of de Salvo’s work contrasts with an intimate untitled 1981 painting by SD-based Kim MacConnel. Both de Salvo and MacConnel capture a playfulness while also being deeply thoughtful about their method and contemporary issues. Hidden subversive images are found in MacConnel’s work. Using primary colors, the painting contains images of a rocket ship, a suave gentleman, flowers, and frisky bunny rabbits. Mitchell notes, “There are certain pieces that I’m so drawn to visually-the Kim MacConnel in the entry goes beyond. It just absolutely delights.” She adds, “I found out about Jean Lowe and then went with Mark Quint to visit Jean and Kim MacConnel’s stud
io and just fell in love with both of their art so I have a lot from those two artists.”

In the dining room, an array of works ensures lively fodder over dinner. Jean Lowe’s Treasure Alert (2008) depicts a Big Lot store mixed with Baroque design elements with text reading ‘you could decorate an entire home top to bottom at big lot.’ Mitchell is drawn to “the wonderful yummy glossy surface that Jean creates… I just love the quality of her painting, the way she uses color and the kind of enamel surface-the contrast that she brings together.”

Artists Ryan McGinness, Mel Bochner, and Rory Devine, branching outside of the SD-based repertoire, are also featured. The fluorescent color and hidden imagery of Ryan McGinness’ Untitled (Aesthetic Comfort) (2008) complements the collection. Mel Bochner’s Blah, Blah, Blah (2010) is apt for a dining space. Mitchell notes, “I do kind of love the humor of it and the thickness of the paint. The first couple years that we owned it, it just smelled like oil paint because it hadn’t fully dried… there is something funny about having ‘blah, blah, blah’ in your dining room-people do a lot of that.” Rory Devine’s Untitled (the painting of the year) (2013) from CB1 Gallery was recently added. Praising the work’s beauty and patterning, Mitchell notes, “He’s an artist that sees a lot of the angst in life and superficiality… how everything is passing. So there’s kind of a lightness and superficial quality about it, but it’s also just so beautiful at the same time.” Certain works revel in the pure pleasure of paint and color, such as SD-based Richard Allen Morris’ 2010 Patch and Paint series, acquired through R.B. Stevenson Gallery.

Although Mitchell and Woods enjoy traveling to collect, their ultimate gratification comes from the SD arts community. Mitchell contends, “I really enjoy getting to know the artists, which is the wonderful thing about contemporary art. There are so many smart, thoughtful, interesting artists in this city.” As she looks around her living room, she takes in Marcos Ramírez ERRE’s Confucius, (2007) and states, “I didn’t buy local art just to buy local art, I also care about the quality… To me the good pieces that I bought here in town stand up to good art anywhere.”