Joan Mitchell, monumental painter

14 juin 2017

One of the rare woman who has been part of the New York school and her abstract expressionism, Joan Mitchell is also a child of Claude Monet and Van Gogh. Flashback on the journey of the most Frenchie of all American, guided all her artistic life by the freedom of the gesture and the power of the Nature.

The school in New York, so far, so close

When one evokes abstract American Expressionism, some names are immediately more “flashy” than others. Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Franz Kline or Willem de Kooning attract the ear and the light. Yet, among these absolute masters of colorfield painting or action painting, other painters of the movement deserve a little more time on their history. Joan Mitchell is one of them. But it is true, why spend some time talking about an artist who has not known the miserable, tormented and frantic destiny of a Rothko, who did not dance in a whirl of paint on his paintings like a Pollock? First and simply because Joan Mitchell is a woman. One of the few to have been part of this movement born in New York workshops after the Second World War and the Great American Depression. But to summarize Joan Mitchell's interest in her only position as a woman would be injurious to her work that is much more complex and exhilarating than imagined.

Joan Mitchell is different from her New York abstract expressionist counterparts. Daughter of a very good family, fortunate, born in Chicago in 1925, of a poet mother and a paternal physician very famous in Illinois, who surprised himself to amuse himself by painting small watercolors on patterns. Undoubtedly influenced by the leisure activities of Dr. Mitchell, the young Joan quickly turns to the middle of Art. With this in mind, she was enrolled in the early 1940s at Smith College before turning to the prestigious Art Institute of Chicago in 1944. Graduated from a Bachelor of Arts degree, she completed her training with a Master of Fine Arts. After this illustrious artistic and educational journey, Joan Mitchell completed her pictorial education alongside Hans Hofmann, the famous German painter of push and pull and at the origin of abstract expressionism and traveling in France, Spain and Italy.

The abstract expressionist, fan of impressionism

When Joan Mitchell officially embarks on an artistic career, she claims to be influenced by Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, Vasily Kandinsky and, even if she will never admit it, by Claude Monet. She quickly joined the group of artists of what was then called the school of New York. This "school" is not really a constituted movement but a sort of shared approach to painting around expressionism. She is thus labeled with this generation of painters represented by Pollock, Kooning, Motherwell, Newmann, Kline, Rothko and Still.

In 1951, she exhibited with Robert Rauschenberg, Willem de Kooning and Robert Motherwell. The following year, she made her first solo show. On a trip to Paris, she meets painters Sam Francis and especially the Canadian Jean-Paul Riopelle, who will become her companion for a common life often impetuous. In France, she feels good, settles there in 1959 and the rewards multiply. The Museum of Modern Art of the city of Paris exhibited it in 1982. She received the National Prize of Painting in 1989. Originally based in Paris, she goes along the Seine a few years later to settle in Vétheuil, in the Val d'Oise, in the same house where a certain Claude Monet had lived. She will move one last time, to put her luggage, her paintings and her brushes in a house near Giverny in Normandy. Another place known for having welcomed... Claude Monet the Impressionist.

In the name of freedom of action

To grasp the painting of Joan Mitchell, one must precisely love painting. Not the painting for the story it tells, the one that illustrates or that naively represents, but the painting in its deepest essence, in the absolute of its color, its materiality and in the gesture that makes it born on canvas. She said herself that "her painting was loved only by painters." Her paintings are, for the most part, gigantic. But are they abstract, or are they representative of Nature? No one will ever really know. Her paintings are in any case the place(s) of a gestural experience, sensitive, sensory and sensual. Like the poems of her mother, they are of a profound impression. One foot in New York with herExpressionist counterparts over the shoulder and the other foot in Vétheuil and Giverny with Claude Monet's impressionist breath. For the works of Joan Mitchell, as for the last works of his unavoidable mentor in the 1920s, one could speak of abstract impressionism. Beyond this double origin, Joan Mitchell, this is also Van Gogh. She will pay tribute to the Batavian painter in a series called "Sunflowers".

There is in her works a pure freedom of gesture, a barely veiled appetite for color which finds its influence in nature and the vegetable world. The titles of her paintings are really obvious, "The sky is blue, the grass is green" (1972). Speaking to art critic Yves Michaud, she said in 1986: "I paint, according to reminiscent landscapes that I carry with me and with the memory of the feelings they inspired me and which, of course, are transformed. I prefer to leave nature to myself, I do not want to improve it, I can never reflect it, I prefer to paint what it leaves me in it.”

Frédérique Marteau, material, color and nature

Frédérique Marteau was introduced to painting from childhood through visits of museums and exhibitions. Seduced by the taste left by Art in her life, she frequented artists' studios as a teenager and learned the oil technique at Gwen Fain in Meudon. After studying Fine Arts at the Ecole Duperré in Paris, she set aside Art, to come back to it a few years later.

By returning to her original vocation, she found her pictorial influence in the works of many artists like Pollock, Rothko, Mitchell, Staël or Soulages. The material, the flattened colors and the Nature become the recurring elements of her works. The artist stretches the paint with a knife over the entire surface of the canvas. The impression of depth is energized by a clever set of contrasts, voids and full. The flat areas and the horizontal treatment remind us of the immensity of large spaces. Nature inspires her in all its diversity and invites itself in her brilliant works bathed in light.