Magazine article Artforum International

Joan Mitchell: CHEIM & READ

Magazine article Artforum International

Joan Mitchell: CHEIM & READ

Article excerpt

The Abstract Expressionists were known for their energy, and in Joan Mitchell's last paintings--a selection dating from 1985 to 1992 were on view at Chem & Read--that energy didn't flag; in fact, it grew ever stronger. In River, 1989, and Trees, 1990-91, for example, Mitchell's gestures are breezier, more free-spirited and responsive to nature than those in her earlier work. One can sense the sparkling flow of the water and the wind between the branches--the aliveness of nature. (An artist's late style need not be redundant, as seems to be the case, for instance, with de Kooning.) The paintings in the show were made shortly before her death in 1992, but there is nothing mournful about them; rather, they evince elation, a joie de vivre. Mitchell claimed that the blossoms in the two canvsases titled Sunflowers, 1990-91., may be dying--she was too, from cancer--but they have not yet wilted and decayed. The blackness that mars the flowers has an intensity that matches the ecstatic intensity of the colors.

These sunflowers were a kind of homage to van Gogh, who also painted sunflowers, and whom, Mitchell greatly admired. Having moved to Paris in 1956, and, in 1967, to Vetheuil, France (where she lived until her death), she was equally entranced by Monet and Cezanne--artists who, like van Gogh, took the French countryside as their subject. Indeed, Mitchell's late paintings recapitulate the history of French--countryside painting, but do so under the auspices of American Abstract Expressionism, The French painters famously focused on the immediate sensations experienced in nature; Mitchell, by contrast, focuses on feelings, employing a frenetic AbEx gesturalism and urban energy. …

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