Joan Mitchell

1925Chicago, United States | 1992Paris, France
Joan Mitchell — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Courtesy Joan Mitchell Foundation, © Estate Joan Mitchell

— Joan Mitchell Foundation

Peintre états-unienne.

Joan Mitchell is one of the greatest American painters of the 20th century, the equivalent of her abstract expressionist predecessors, Pollock and Rothko, though she hated any kind of labelling in art. She was the daughter of a poet and a doctor who was also an amateur artist, and hesitated for a while between poetry and visual arts, working as the co-editor of Poetrymagazine. In the wake of her cultivated parents, she studied at the Francis W. Parker School in Chicago, where her art teacher introduced her to Oskar Kokoschka. At the Art Institute of Chicago, she attended classes given by German artist Robert Von Neumann and Louis Ritman, a Russian painter who had spent time at Giverny. Choosing a kind of self-imposed creative isolation, she spent most of her career in Vétheuil, a village located above the Seine, which she claimed she found “by accident,” only a few kilometres from Giverny, two places “invented” by Monet, who, she said, had less of an influence on her work than Cézanne or Van Gogh. In 1948, briefly married to Barney Rosset (who would later become an important publisher), Mitchell spent a year in France, moved to Paris and rented a studio in the same building as Philip Guston. She returned to New York at the end of 1949 and patronized the haunts associated with the American art avant-garde, like the Artist’s Club, where the only other women allowed in were Elaine de Kooning, Lee Krasner, and Helen Frankenthaler. Though her works were abstract as early as 1951, she described herself as a “visual”, sensation-seeking painter. The kind of painting she developed during this period, large, luminous, energetic, is based on nature, in which colour plays a critical part. She said: “I painted remembered landscapes that I took with me, as well as the memory of the feelings they inspired, which of course changed over time.”

Her work can be recognized by its hasty strokes, expressive lines, scattered and swarming compositions, harsh chromaticism, meditative spaces, and reversal of the subject. Pierre Schneider also talks about a perpetual shuttle between interiority and exteriority. In Paris, she met Sam Francis and French-Canadian Jean-Paul Riopelle (b. 1955) with whom she would share her life for over twenty years. Until 1959, she spent as much time in Paris as New York and eventually elected to choose France as her new adoptive country. Starting in 1967, the year she bought her house in Vétheuil, her Parisian art dealer Jean Fournier exhibited her regularly, at time when American art shifting towards Pop Art and the beginnings of minimalism. The use of polyptychs in her work during the second half of the 1960s (Girolata Triptych, 1964; Chicago 1965), lent additional power to her work. In 1969, she created her first Tournesolspaintings as a tribute to Van Gogh, launching a collection of series (Tilleul, 1978; La Grande Vallée, 1983; Champs, 1990). Reaching a wide audience during a retrospective exhibition (1974) organized by Marcia Tucker, the famous curator of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, her work then received support from New York art dealer Xavier Fourcade (from 1976 to 1987). After his death, she found representation with the Robert Miller Gallery in New York, whose director became her friend. In 1979, Mitchell separated from Riopelle. Her work was featured in a first retrospective at the musée d’art modern de la Ville de Paris (1982). In 1989, she set up a studio in rue Campagne-Première for her stays in Paris, where she painted with pastels. With respect to her pictorial process, she describes it with disarming honesty: “I am moved when colours are put together on a flat surface […], not excited by an idea.”

Scarlett Reliquet

Translated from French by Toby Cayouette.

From the Dictionnaire universel des créatrices
© 2013 Des femmes – Antoinette Fouque
© Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions
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