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Artists Joan Mitchell

Joan Mitchell

American Painter and Printmaker

Movement: Abstract Expressionism

Born: February 12, 1925 - Chicago, Illinois

Died: October 30, 1992 - Vetheuil, France

Quotes

"My paintings are titled after they are finished. I paint from remembered landscapes that I carry with me - and remembered feelings of them, which of course become transformed. I could certainly never mirror nature. I would more like to paint what it leaves with me."
Joan Mitchell
"The painting is just a surface to be covered. Paintings aren't about the person who makes them, either. My paintings have to do with feeling, yet it's pretentious to say they're about feelings, too, because if you don't get it across, it's nothing."
Joan Mitchell
"Abstract is not a style. I simply want to make a surface work. This is just a use of space and form: it's an ambivalence of forms and space."
Joan Mitchell
"People will never understand what we are doing if they can't feel. All art is abstract. All music is abstract. But it's all real... We were all trying to bring that spirit, that spontaneous energy, into our work."
Joan Mitchell
"I want to paint the feeling of a space. It might be an enclosed space, it might be a vast space. It might be an object working with Hans Hofmann's phrase "push and pull," the structure, the light, the space, the color."
Joan Mitchell

"Abstract is not a style. I simply want to make a surface work. This is just a use of space and form: it's an ambivalence of forms and space."

Synopsis

Joan Mitchell is known for the compositional rhythms, bold coloration, and sweeping gestural brushstrokes of her large and often multi-paneled paintings. Inspired by landscape, nature, and poetry, her intent was not to create a recognizable image, but to convey emotions. Mitchell's early success in the 1950s was striking at a time when few women artists were recognized. She referred to herself as the "last Abstract Expressionist," and she continued to create abstract paintings until her death in 1992.

Key Ideas

Inspired by the gestural painting of Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline, Joan Mitchell's mature work comprised a highly abstract, richly colored, calligraphic manner, which balanced elements of structured composition with a mood of wild improvisation.
Mitchell rejected the emphasis on flatness and the "all-over" approach to composition that were prevalent among many of the leading Abstract Expressionists. Instead, she preferred to retain a more traditional sense of figure and ground in her pictures, and she often composed them in ways that evoked impressions of landscape.
Mitchell's abrasive personality has been a key factor in interpretations of her painting, which critics often read as expressions of rage and violence. Yet, almost as often, they have seen lyricism in her work.

Most Important Art

City Landscape (1955)
Informed by an urban energy, City Landscape is an iconic example of Mitchell's early work. The tension between the horizontal brushstrokes of vibrant color in the center with the surrounding whites exemplifies her use of the figure-ground relationship. The work also demonstrates her debt to Philip Guston, whose Abstract Expressionist work was often likened to Impressionism.
Oil on canvas. Dimensions: 80 x 80 inches. © Estate of Joan Mitchell, Courtesy of the Joan Mitchell Foundation - The Art Institute of Chicago
More Art Works


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Biography

Childhood

From an early age, Joan Mitchell showed an interest and love of painting, art, and poetry. She grew up comfortably in Chicago as the younger of two girls. Her mother, a poet, writer, and editor, sparked her lifelong interest in poetry. Her father, a successful doctor, would often take her to the Art Institute of Chicago and other museums.

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Early Training

Joan Mitchell Biography

After studying both art and English for two years at Smith College, Mitchell transferred to the Art Institute of Chicago in 1944 to study painting. The traditional training included classes in anatomy, art history, and drawing from the figure. Using the Art Institute's stellar collection as a visual resource, her student work showed the influence of Wassily Kandinsky, Henri Matisse, and the late period works of Paul Cézanne. She was awarded the Edward L. Ryerson Traveling Fellowship upon her graduation from the Art Institute in 1947.

Deferring the fellowship, Mitchell moved to New York City with the intent of studying with Hans Hofmann. She was intimidated by his teaching style and only attended one of his classes. But it was during her time in New York City that she was first introduced to the ideas and artwork of the New York School, which was dominated by the Abstract Expressionists. Attending the many museums and galleries, she saw the works of Arshile Gorky and Jackson Pollock. A year later, Mitchell left for Paris on the traveling fellowship. As her artwork continued to evolve during her time abroad, the influence of Abstract Expressionism was evident. Her paintings, cubist cityscapes, interiors, and figures became progressively more abstract. She termed her new works "expressionist landscapes."

Mature Period

Moving back to New York City in the fall of 1949, Mitchell was quickly immersed in the local Abstract Expressionist art scene. She was part of the regular gatherings of artists and poets at the Cedar Street Tavern and became friends with painters such as de Kooning and Kline. She was one of the few women artists asked to join the exclusive Artists' Club. Located in Greenwich Village, "The Club" was a center for lectures and discussion and provided a supportive environment for the Abstract Expressionists. Mitchell was included in their seminal 9th Street: Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture, curated by Leo Castelli in the spring of 1951.

Joan Mitchell Photo

Marking the true beginning of her career as an artist, Mitchell had her first solo New York City exhibition at The New Gallery in 1952. The exhibition's critical success led to yearly exhibitions at the Stable Gallery. Through the 1950s, her work became more confident. Her artwork developed the qualities that would continue to define her paintings: her sense of color, composition, and tension between bold and subtle elements.

She divided her time between New York and Paris until 1959, when she moved to France permanently. This bold step moved her away from her success in New York and its burgeoning art world. Paris offered a different atmosphere and a different group of friends and artists including Jean-Paul Riopelle. She lived with Riopelle, a successful French Canadian artist. Their artistically supportive yet stormy relationship lasted until 1979.

The late 1960s marked a strengthening of Mitchell's ties to France. After her mother died in 1967, she purchased a home and studio outside Paris in the town of Vetheuil. The beautiful two-acre property overlooking the Seine was reflected in a renewed focus on nature and landscape in her artwork. Her style of painting changed in the larger studio. Less linear works using blocks of vivid color show the influence of Hans Hofmann. She began to create large multi-paneled paintings of two, three, or four panels. In 1967, she also began her professional relationship with the Galerie Jean Fournier in Paris, which would provide significant continued support of her work.

Late Period

Joan Mitchell Portrait

In 1972, Joan Mitchell had her first solo museum exhibition at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, New York. A major exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art followed in 1974. Her paintings became more linear with vibrant brushstrokes of color reaching the edges of the canvas. These late paintings sealed her reputation as an inventive artist and a master of painting technique.

Legacy

Joan Mitchell continues to inspire as an artist true to her inner vision, who created a large and impressive body of Abstract Expressionist work. Recognized by the age of 30, her paintings steadily matured and became ever more striking and profound. The Joan Mitchell Foundation, established in 1993, continues to celebrate her legacy by providing grants and other support for painters and sculptures working today.

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Joan Mitchell
Interactive chart with Joan Mitchell's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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Artists

Paul Cézanne
Wassily Kandinsky
Henri Matisse
Arshile Gorky
Philip Guston

Friends

Willem de Kooning
Franz Kline
Frank O'Hara
Jean-Paul Riopelle

Movements

Impressionism
Post-Impressionism
Cubism
Abstract Expressionism
Joan Mitchell
Joan Mitchell
Years Worked: 1947 - 1992

Artists

Joan Snyder
Pat Steir
Philip Wofford

Friends

Edward Clark

Movements

Post-Painterly Abstraction
Lyrical Abstraction

Original content written by The Art Story Contributors

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

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Useful Resources on Joan Mitchell

Books
Websites
Articles
Videos
More
The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.
works
Joan Mitchell: Lady Painter

By Patricia Albers

The Paintings of Joan Mitchell

By Jane Livingston, Linda Nochlin, Yvette Lee

Joan Mitchell

By Klaus Kertess

Joan Mitchell

By Nils Ohlsen, Joan Mitchell

Joan Mitchell Foundation

Official Artist Website

Artnet: Joan Mitchell Catalogue

Provides Bibliographical Information and a List of Works by the Artist

Hauser & Wirth: Joan Mitchell Exhibitions

Features Information and Image Galleries from the Exhibitions "The Last Paintings," "Sunflowers," and "Leaving America"

Gagosian Gallery: Joan Mitchell: The Last Decade

Includes Exhibition Materials and Image Gallery from the 2010 Exhibition

Joan Mitchell, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

By Brenda Richardson
Artforum
September 2002

Mitchell Paints a Picture

By Arthur C. Danto
The Nation
August 29, 2002

Expatriate Mitchell Tapped Into France When Action Was Here

By Hilton Kramer
The New York Observer
July 29, 2002

Tough Love: Resurrecting Joan Mitchell

By Peter Schjeldahl
The New Yorker
July 15, 2002

transcripts
Joan Mitchell Oral History Interview

Conducted by Linda Nochlin

films
Joan Mitchell: Portrait of an Abstract Painter

Directed by Marion Cajori, 1992

Abstract Expressionism
Abstract Expressionism
Abstract Expressionism
A tendency among New York painters of the late 1940s and '50s, all of whom were committed to an expressive art of profound emotion and universal themes. The movement embraced the gestural abstraction of Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, and the color field painting of Mark Rothko and others. It blended elements of Surrealism and abstract art in an effort to create a new style fitted to the postwar mood of anxiety and trauma.
ArtStory: Abstract Expressionism
Willem de Kooning
Willem de Kooning
Willem de Kooning
Willem de Kooning, a Dutch immigrant to New York, was one of the foremost Abstract Expressionist painters. His abstract compositions drew on Surrealist and figurative traditions, and typified the expressionistic 'gestural' style of the New York School.
ArtStory: Willem de Kooning
Franz Kline
Franz Kline
Franz Kline
Franz Kline was an American abstract painter and one of the pioneers of Abstract Expressionism. His signature black-and-white abstractions were inspired by Japanese calligraphy, and inspired a later generation of artists who created Minimalism.
ArtStory: Franz Kline
Wassily Kandinsky
Wassily Kandinsky
Wassily Kandinsky
A member of the German Expressionist group Der Blaue Reiter, and later a teacher at the Bauhaus, Kandinsky is best known for his pioneering breakthrough into expressive abstraction in 1913. His work prefigures that of the American Abstract Expressionists.
ArtStory: Wassily Kandinsky
Henri Matisse
Henri Matisse
Henri Matisse
Henri Matisse was a French painter and sculptor who helped forge modern art. From his early Fauvist works to his late cutouts, he emphasized expansive fields of color, the expressive potential of gesture, and the sensuality inherent in art-making.
ArtStory: Henri Matisse
Paul Cézanne
Paul Cézanne
Paul Cézanne
Paul Cézanne was an influential French Post-Impressionist painter whose depictions of the natural world, based on internal geometric planes, paved the way for Cubism and later modern art movements.
ArtStory: Paul Cézanne
Hans Hofmann
Hans Hofmann
Hans Hofmann
German-born American painter, art teacher and theorist. Hofmann matured as an artist in 1904-14 in Paris, where he met many of the greatest artists of that time. After he emigrated to America in the early 1930s, he enjoyed a prominent career as a teacher, powerfully influencing many Abstract Expressionists with his understanding of European modernism.
ArtStory: Hans Hofmann
Arshile Gorky
Arshile Gorky
Arshile Gorky
Arshile Gorky was an Armenian-born American painter and a major influence on the development of Abstract Expressionism. In his own art he fused elements of Cubism, Surrealism and Expressionism, and was close with key figures central to New York's burgeoning abstrct art scene, such as John Graham, Stuart Davis and Willem de Kooning.
ArtStory: Arshile Gorky
Jackson Pollock
Jackson Pollock
Jackson Pollock
Jackson Pollock was the most well-known Abstract Expressionist and the key example of Action Painting. His work ranges from Jungian scenes of primitive rites to the purely abstract "drip paintings" of his later career.
ArtStory: Jackson Pollock
Leo Castelli
Leo Castelli
Leo Castelli
Leo Castelli was an American art collector and gallery owner. His Castelli Gallery in New York, which opened in 1957, held several groundbreaking shows that revealed to the art world works by artists such as Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. Castelli's gallery was considered an early proving ground for Neo-Dada, Pop, and Minimalist art.
ArtStory: Leo Castelli
Jean-Paul Riopelle
Jean-Paul Riopelle
Jean-Paul Riopelle
Jean-Paul Riopelle was a Canadian painter and sculptor and a member of the "Les Automatistes" movement. He was connected to Abstract Expressionism both in the style of his paintings and in his relationship with New York School painter Joan Mitchell.
Jean-Paul Riopelle
Philip Guston
Philip Guston
Philip Guston
Initially associated with the New York School of abstract art, Guston famously abandoned pure abstraction in the 1950s and turned to figurative art and quasi-abstract cartoon imagery. His later work, for which he is best known, was a major influence on the development of Neo-Expressionism in the U.S.
ArtStory: Philip Guston
Frank O'Hara
Frank O'Hara
Frank O'Hara
Frank O'Hara was a central figure of the New York School of Poetry. He was also an art critic and curator, and worked at the Museum of Modern Art.
Frank O'Hara
Impressionism
Impressionism
Impressionism
A movement in painting that first surfaced in France in the 1860s, it sought new ways to describe effects of light and movement, often using rich colors. The Impressionists were drawn to modern life and often painted the city, but they also captured landscapes and scenes of middle-class leisure-taking in the suburbs.
ArtStory: Impressionism
Post-Impressionism
Post-Impressionism
Post-Impressionism
Post-Impressionism refers to a number of styles that emerged in reaction to Impressionism in the 1880s. The movement encompassed Symbolism and Neo-Impressionism before ceding to Fauvism around 1905. Its artists turned away from effects of light and atmosphere to explore new avenues such as color theory and personal feeling, often using colors and forms in intense and expressive ways.
ArtStory: Post-Impressionism
Cubism
Cubism
Cubism
Cubism was developed by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque between 1907-1911, and it continued to be highly influential long after its decline. This classic phase has two stages: 'Analytic', in which forms seem to be 'analyzed' and fragmented; and 'Synthetic', in which pre-existing materials such as newspaper and wood veneer are collaged to the surface of the canvas.
ArtStory: Cubism
Joan Snyder
Joan Snyder
Joan Snyder
Joan Snyder is an American painter, best known for abstract "stroke paintings," which recall the geometric constructions of Mondrian and Reinhardt. Much of her work is notable for its politicized nature, raising awareness of the Holocaust and AIDS epidemic.
Joan Snyder
Pat Steir
Pat Steir
Pat Steir
Pat Steir is a contemporary American painter who draws on color fields, gestural Action Painting, and the semiotic considerations of conceptual art. Her works include gridded canvases, giant X-ed out symbols and roses, and "waterfall" paintings of poured and streaming pigment.
Pat Steir
Philip Wofford
Philip Wofford
Philip Wofford
Philip Wofford is an American abstract artist. His works have been celebrated for their visually primal energy, and for exploring themes of duality and conflict.
Philip Wofford
Edward Clark
Edward Clark
Edward Clark
Ed Clark, a New Orleans-born painter, was an Abstract Expressionist artist who pioneered the use of shaped canvases in New York.
ArtStory: Edward Clark
Post-Painterly Abstraction
Post-Painterly Abstraction
Post-Painterly Abstraction
Post-painterly abstraction was a term developed by critic Clement Greenberg in 1964 to describe a diverse range of abstract painters who rejected the gestural styles of the Abstract Expressionists and favored instead what he called "openness or clarity." Painters as different as Ellsworth Kelly and Helen Frankenthaler were described by the term. Some employed geometric form, others veils of stained color.
ArtStory: Post-Painterly Abstraction
Lyrical Abstraction
Lyrical Abstraction
Lyrical Abstraction
Lyrical Abstraction was a term used to describe abstract painters coming out of the Color Field vein of Abstract Expressionism, especially in the 1960s and 70s. Lyrical Abstraction emphasizes the emotional or spiritual, and tends toward free areas of color rather than strict formalism or hard-edge geometry.
Lyrical Abstraction