Inspiring Master Artists - Joan Mitchell

Spending time looking at a large body of Mitchell's work allowed me to begin to see how it projects the chaos and elegant structures that are found in nature. It would seem that her process was to allow her body movements and the immediacy of her brush strokes to express what she discovered in nature, from landscape vistas to the close up views of underbrush or foliage thickets. I don't believe she was trying to replicate or mimic direct observation of nature. She used her observation of nature to train her body and brush movements to create natural organic structures that are in a way nature itself. Classifying her work as "Ambiguous Abstraction" or "Action Painting" does not seem appropriate, as for me her process is a realistic way of creating nature, in all of its complexity, as a painting. Her process is a physical dance and an expression of movement that was born and nurtured by the observation of the organic world.

The works that I have selected for this note, I believe, will demonstrate my interpretation of Mitchell's paintings. Figure 1 shows Mitchell standing in front of one of her paintings. This is an important photo of her as it helps to understand the physical movements and gestures she needed to make in relationship to her stature and the scale of the work she was creating. It also suggests the level of power, action and delicate nuance that she would have to orchestrate into her paint strokes and marks to create these beautiful slices of nature.

In Figure 2 her painting is displayed side by side with a photo of nature (landscape), this juxtaposition helps us see how she was expressing her own natural organic landscapes with her body and hand movements. Its not the direct observation of nature but more of a unique language of creating it. It is clear to me that the work comes from how she trained her body and hand to move and engage the two dimensional surface.

The balance of the paintings in this note clearly demonstrates her work in relation to the organic world of nature, and the intensity of brilliant light playing against the deep dark cool shadows only found in the land and foliage.

Recommend sites related to Joan Mitchell:

The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)


Joan Mitchell Foundation


MOMA About this artist
Source: Oxford University Press

American painter. She studied at Smith College in Northampton, MA, from 1942 to 1944, and then at the Art Institute of Chicago (1944-1949) and at Columbia University in New York (1950). From 1950 to 1955, when she had a studio on St Mark's Place, in the heart of Greenwich Village in New York, she was part of a close-knit community of abstract painters and was profoundly influenced by Abstract Expressionism, especially by the work of Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky and Franz Kline. However much she was affected by their work, however, her aim was less to express emotional states than to convey her experience of landscape, as in City Landscape (1955; Chicago, IL, A. Inst.)

Mitchell left New York for France in 1955, living first in Paris and later outside the city at Vetheuil. She continued to paint without regard to changing fashions, producing large pictures that shimmer with vibrant skeins and drips of paint, creating a vivid web of colour against a pale, neutral background. Often alluding to her sources in landscape through her use of suggestive titles, as in Mont St Hilaire (1957; Palm Beach, FL, Lannan Found.), she displayed a devotion to nature suggesting an affinity with the earlier work of artists such as Cézanne and Kandinsky, but expressed in wholly contemporary terms.
Patti Stuckler From Grove Art Online © 2009 Oxford University Press 


Joan Mitchell In Studio
Figure 1 - Joan Mitchell painting in progress - unstarched canvas.
Joan Mitchell Paiting dispalyed with photo of landscape
Figure 2 - After April

Joan Mitchell Painting
Figure 3
Joan Mitchell Painitng
Figure 4
Joan Mitchell Painting
Figure 5
Joan Mitchell - Tilleul, 1978. Oil on canvas, 110 1/4 x 70 7/8 inches
Figure 6 - Tilleul, 1978. Oil on canvas, 110 1/4 x 70 7/8 inches 
Joan Mitchell - Tilleul, 1978. Oil on canvas, 102 3/8 x 70 7/8 inches
Figure 7- Tilleul, 1978. Oil on canvas, 102 3/8 x 70 7/8 inches
Joan Mitchell - Untitled, 1979. Oil on canvas (triptych), 76 3/4 x 153 1/2 inches
Figure 8 - Untitled, 1979. Oil on canvas (triptych), 76 3/4 x 153 1/2 inch