Blind Contour Drawing #5 – a portion of “La Vie En Rose” Joan Mitchell 1979
Cezanne, Matisse and Van Gogh were Joan Mitchell’s gods and she is my goddess.
Mitchell’s abrupt mannerism led many to interpret her work as expressions of anger and violence. However, Mitchell had a life long adoration of painting and was inspired by landscape, nature and poetry. She felt that poetry was the art form most analogous to her own.
Mitchell was influenced by her mother who was a poet, writer and editor. Her father was a successful doctor and often took her and her sister to museums. She perused her love of art by attending the Art Institute of Chicago in 1944 to study painting. After her studies, she moved to New York City where she was first introduced to the ideas the New York School, which was dominated by the Abstract Expressionists. On a travelling fellowship from school, she left for Paris a year later.
Back in NY City by 1949, she quickly immersed in the local Abstract Expressionist scene. She gathered at the Cedar Street Tavern with other artists and poets and became friends with painters such as de Kooning and Kline. She was one of the few women artists asked to join the exclusive Artists’ Club in Greenwich Village. In 1951, she was included in their seminal 9th Street: Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture, curated by Leo Castelli.
The success of her first solo exhibition at The New Gallery in 1952 led to yearly exhibitions at the Stable Gallery. Mitchell’s early success in the 1950s was striking at a time when few women artists were recognized.
Mitchell had synesthesia which is a “neurological condition in which a person experiences “crossed” responses to stimuli. It occurs when stimulation of one sensory or pathway (i.e.hearing) leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway (i.e. vision).” She didn’t know she suffered from it and often thought she was crazy, to the point of being suicidal. Painting made life bearable and by the mid 1950’s she fully embraced the idea that the canvas was hers to express her emotions.
Her work became more confident and she developed the qualities that would continue to define her paintings. Her use of colour, her hand done marks and the tension she created between bold and subtle elements. She was a careful and slow painter even though her work often looks so spontaneous.
In 1959 she moved to France permanently which was a bold move considering New York’s prominence in the art scene. She fell in love with a French Canadian painter, Jean-Paul Riopelle. They had a stormy yet artistic relationship for 24 years. Painting was how Mitchell confronted and dealt with the circumstances of her life. She created the painting “La vie en rose” after Riopelle left, Rose had been her nickname from him.
She referred to herself as the “last Abstract Expressionist,” and she continued to create abstract paintings until her death in 1992.
Born: February 12, 1925 – Chicago, Illinois
Died: October 30, 1992 – Vetheuil, France