Joan MITCHELL — the last Abstract Expressionist

Disclaimer: The information provided in this episode comes from multiple sources and is not my scientific studies or discoveries. All authors and sources are credited at the end of this article. Thank you!

Welcome to HerArt podcast, a project for art lovers, especially art created by women. In our second episode, we will talk about Joan MITCHELL — the last abstract expressionist. My name is Nata Andreev and I am going to tell you seven curious facts that you didn’t know about the artist that didn’t want to create recognizable images of landscape, nature or poetry, but to convey all of them in emotions.

Curious Fact #1

Joan has upper-middle-class Midwestern roots. One of Mitchell’s grandfathers, Charles Louis Strobel, stands out for both his imagination and his competence in money-making. An engineer who invented the Z-bar. Notably, it was the fortune of this ancestor that allowed the young painter to pursue her passion without financial worries. Strobel’s daughter Marion, Joan’s mother, became a well-known poet. Thus, the Strobel lineage also provided an artistic gene.

Curious Fact #2

Born in Chicago, she moved to New York at 24 years old, where she became actively involved in the downtown avant-garde art scene, establishing herself as a central figure among the second generation of Abstract Expressionists. At a time when women were marginalized in the art world, she captured the attention of the leaders of the New York avant-garde. Two years later she was one of only a few women invited to join The Club, the East Eighth Street gathering place where the Abstract Expressionists met for weekly discussions.

Curious Fact #3

Mitchell divided her time between New York and Paris until moving permanently to France at 34 years old. She first lived in Paris and then, eight years later, settled in a small town outside the city near Claude Monet’s former estate in Giverny. Her choice to leave the tight-knit community of artists in downtown New York reflected her desire to join her long-term partner, Canadian artist Jean-Paul Riopelle, and the connection she felt to the city that shaped such figures as Paul Cézanne, Vincent van Gogh, and Wassily Kandinsky, whose works had first impressed her during childhood visits to The Art Institute of Chicago. She was particularly inspired by their incorporation of abstraction into their compositions and their use of color, line, and gesture to create dynamic visual rhythms, which she strove for in her own work.

Curious Fact #4

Yet, she rejected the ‘all-over’ approach to composition and maintained a more traditional sense of figure and ground. Mitchell’s paintings of the mid-1950s and late 1950s with surfaces energized by bold and rhythmical slashing strokes were the very epitome of action painting. Often read as expressions of rage and violence, her works were actually imbued with certain lyricism. Her explorations of form and composition, color and gesture have given rise to the rich and compelling language of abstraction.

Curious Fact #5

If success was within reach, it did not give Mitchell peace of mind. Precisely what it was about her generation that made them all so complicated, so troubled, frequently in need of a drink and of a shrink, has never been properly understood. Perhaps it was the toxic combination of professional and sexual back-stabbing that did everyone in. Regardless, “by the time Joan’s second show at the Stable closed on March 12, 1955, summer was fast approaching, and she and Fried (her female shrink) were debating how to avoid another psychological pile up in the Hamptons.” Mitchell had divorced Barney Rosset, and Goldberg, she had discovered, was unfaithful. In the end, she chose to listen to her shrink, and, “after a grand dernier fuck with Mike, flew off to Paris for two months.”

Curious Fact #6

What makes Mitchell great is her ability to infuse paint with an endless range of feelings. That is what gives her paintings their staying power, why they are one of the towering achievements of the postwar period. Her art could be simultaneously raw, tough, evanescent, and vulnerable. At a time when painting had died once again, and the smart money was on Conceptual Art, Mitchell showed that paint had not lost its power to communicate contradictory and elusive feelings, wisps of thought and slippery memories, tumult and calm, the tragic and joyous, often in the same work.

Curious Fact #7

Today, Mitchell’s work is inseparable from the discussion of Abstract Expressionism, and her paintings have become a standard for understanding developments in mid-century painting. Her work is included in nearly all major modern art collections, some of which include the MoMA and Guggenheim Museum in New York; Tate Modern in London; and Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.

Thank you so much for listening to the second episode of season three, of HerArt podcast — a project for art lovers, especially art created by women. If you want to follow more of what I do, find me on Facebook and Instagram. And don’t forget to tune in next month, when I am going to tell you about Agnes Martin — the artist mystic who disappeared into the desert. See you later!

References

MoMA | Hyperallergic | Sothebys | The Art Story | Widewalls | Artnet

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