Second Generation Abstract Expressionist Shows Final Works
A new exhibition of paintings by the late, American, second generation Abstract Expressionist, Joan Mitchell is to open in London in early February. Created during the last decade of her life,Hauser & Wirth in London have compiled a selection of works from this well respected artist. These large-scale canvasses mark a distinct departure from her more sombre works of the early 1960s. Her late paintings, dating from 1985 to 1992, are replete with vibrant colours, energy and excitement, combining Mitchell’s admiration of the work of Van Gogh and Monet, her interest in nature and her adept skill at expressing emotions and memories. My paintings aren’t about art issues. They’re about a feeling that comes to me from the outside, from landscape. … Paintings aren’t about the person who makes them, either. My paintings have to do with feelings’ – d Joan Mitchell 1974.
Mitchell was born in Chicago and in 1950 moved to New York where she was one of the few female artists to participate in seminal exhibitions alongside prominent Abstract Expressionists such as Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline. In 1959, Mitchell relocated to France. She stayed in Paris for eight years before she moved to Vétheuil where she remained for the last 25 years of her life, producing dynamic paintings despite such momentous events as the loss of close family, friends and her long battle with cancer that took her life in 1992.
Like many of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, Mitchell was fascinated by the French countryside and the lush landscape of Vétheuil featured prominently in her late paintings. In the diptych ‘River’, a painting of the River Seine as seen from her home, Mitchell filled two canvasses with vigorous brushstrokes in an array of greens, blues, purples, reds and a swath of yellow paint crossing the bottom of the canvas to represent the river. In ‘Sunflowers’, Mitchell again used a diptych format to depict one of her most well known subjects in the twilight of its life. In a conversation with Yves Michaud, Mitchell once said, ‘Sunflowers are something I feel very intensely. They look so wonderful when young and they are so moving when they are dying…’. With ‘Sunflowers’, Mitchell worked quickly across her canvasses, expressing her intense feeling through the intense gestures that form the unrestrained and multi-coloured flowers’ blooms. Pushing the boundaries of abstract painting, both ‘River’ and ‘Sunflowers’ illustrate Mitchell’s emotional and physical recollections of the countryside she loved.
Joan Mitchell was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1925 and died in a Paris suburb in 1992. Her expatriate years began in the late 1950s and continued uninterrupted until her passing in Vetheuil, France. She occupied a celebrated stature in the generation that succeeded Pollock and Rothko. She declined the theoreticism of her European counterparts, and remained throughout her career the empirical American, personally accountable for her memories and emotions. Her work is characterized in many developments from the 1950s to the early 90s shortly prior to her passing. She usually worked on multiple panels or large scale canvases – striving to attract a natural rather than constructed rhythm from the composition, a rhythm emanating from the expansiveness of the gesture or from the unrestrained use of color and the pervasive luminosity. The titles of her last paintings suggest the abstract valleys and empirical fields of her beloved French countryside.
In speaking of Mitchell, others tell us of her physical materiality – how she exudes the visual sentiments of nature – the objectivity of her painting, devoid of anecdote or theater and in her own words “to convey the feeling of the dying sunflower.” Joan Mitchell as an abstract expressionist composes with long curvilinear strokes or broad stains of color, contrasting warm and cool, often on unprimed canvases. Her perceptions enrich her work with a fascinating sense of the unfinished. Joan Mitchell demonstrated in painting just as in life, anything can happen.