The week after he sold his first piece of art for AU$6500, Mitch Gobel drove to every car park where he’d ever dodged paying a parking ticket and handed over a pocketful of coins to confused attendants. But this wasn’t about finally having money for the bills; this was about a creative going to extreme measures for his craft, and ultimately, himself.
“It was a lot deeper than just coming clean to shopping centres where I’d avoided spending AU$3 on a ticket,” he says. “Over the course of one week, I came clean about every single lie in my life and every bad thing I’d ever done.”
This was a conscience cleanse and it included telling the love of his life that he’d cheated on her while they were together. “There were other worse things too – although nothing illegal,” Mitch is quick to point out. “I hadn’t led a bad life, but there were events at the back of my mind, which I wasn’t proud of and I knew they were a distraction. I knew that, if I wanted to put all my energy into my project, I had to undo them.”
Yet his makeover didn’t end there.
The week he sold his first two big-money paintings, after convincing a Melbourne gallery to display them (the first sold within 24 hours) he not only quit his day job at a plant nursery, but also made an even braver financial decision.
“It was the first time I realised the potential of my art,” says Mitch, who had spent the last few years developing a unique way to create art using resin (imagine liquid glass), which he dubbed ‘the pretty lights effect.’ But it wasn’t just his artistic prowess that he was developing.
“I had signed up to a self-development course, which is not something I usually talk about,” he says. “I got to the stage where I no longer wanted to live by my insecurities. I no longer wanted to be controlled by the little – big – voice, which was saying, ‘It will never work. You’re dreaming! Who’s going to buy your art? You’re going to embarrass yourself!’”
One of the exercises in the course was to write a ‘vision project’, which for Mitch became a mixture of a mission statement and a promise. The week he sold his paintings, he posted his vision project on Facebook, which meant – to him – he couldn’t back out of it.
“My name is Mitch Gobel and I have a vision,” it read. “I have a plan and I have the power to make this happen… by the end of September 2014, I will have a selection of 25 abstract resin art pieces. I am going to exhibit them in my own show, all in one night! If we can sell each painting for $6000 or more then that will generate upwards of $150,000. I will donate one third of any money raised that night to Wildlife Warriors [the charity founded by Steve Irwin in 2002] and put the rest back into my next project to continue my vision and strengthen my ability to help wildlife and the environment.”
This wasn’t a snap decision but a nagging desire which, for a long time, he’d been ignoring because of self-doubt.
“I grew up on acreage of bushland surrounded by animals,” explains Mitch. “I always said I wanted to be a zookeeper when I was a kid, even though I also loved drawing. But in the past few years, I’d found it increasingly hard to watch nature documentaries because I couldn’t avoid issues like deforestation and pollution, and feel powerless.”
A week after selling his first ‘professional level’ artwork and posting his promise on Facebook, Mitch flew to Queensland to meet with Wildlife Warriors to discuss the project; yet another confidence boost for Mitch as the late Steve Irwin had been his idol. Six months later, he handed them a cheque, after every piece of his artwork sold.
In the year since, Mitch has collaborated with Greenpeace, creating a special piece of resin art to represent their Save the Reef campaign. He also created a piece he called ‘Poseidon, Protector of the Sea’ for the marine conservation organisation Sea Shepherd and is an ambassador for the Goongerah Environment Centre (GECO), an organisation dedicated to protecting the ancient forests in Gippsland, Victoria from threats such as logging.
He has now decided to create his own not-for-profit with the help of a friend who has experience in PR and philanthropy – MGRA Wildlife and Habitat Conservation is entirely funded by Mitch’s art sales and aims to buy land with high ecological value and protect it as areas of conservation.
“Doing this means that even in 100 years’ time when I’m long gone, this land will be legally protected,” says Mitch. “But to do so takes time and money.” And a lot of it…
This is why, even though his art is increasingly sought after, Mitch lives at home with his parents (“I’m very lucky they support me”) and purposefully has no financial commitments apart from a monthly phone bill and a car loan.
“I joke that I’m an artist who couldn’t afford to walk into a gallery and buy my own artwork,” he says. “People think I make a profit when I sell a piece of artwork, but the resin alone is expensive and every piece takes at least 14 days to create. Although I’m an artist who sells work for AU$9000 or AU$10,000 or AU$16,000, I’m living on AU$50 a week. It’s funny, the difference between perception and reality.”
Yet Mitch isn’t complaining. He is honest about the fact his charity work has helped his profile grow. He now sells prints of his work through the interior store Apache Rose in Sydney, where his work stands alongside rising stars of the art world, such as Emma Leonard and Danny Sixx.
“I’m not great with publicity,” he says. “If we were just here to talk about me I probably wouldn’t be able to do it, but I’m happy to promote my art for a cause that’s bigger than me.
“Maybe it’s a bit much to hope for but in my perfect world, people will look at my work and smile, not because of how it looks, but because of what it represents – self-belief, hope, passion, transformation, motivation, all leading to a better life.”
This is an excerpt from Issue 29 of Collective Hub, on sale now.