Joan Mitchell


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Painter and printmaker. A skillful and passionate abstract painter, from the 1950s onward she resolutely sustained abstract expressionism's gestural energy in the face of changing taste. Her brilliantly colored, sensuous, and often grandly scaled works feature tangled brushstrokes in variously lyrical, elegiac, stormy, or even desolate moods. The artist's response to the light and colors observed in landscape inspired much of her work. While living in France during most of her career, she remained connected with the living tradition of chromatic expression embodied in the work of such artists as Monet, Matisse, and Hans Hofmann. Born in Chicago, Mitchell studied at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, for two years before transferring in 1944 to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. After earning her BFA in 1947, she went to New York with fellow Chicagoan Barnett Lee (known as Barney) Rosset Jr., from 1951 the visionary force behind Grove Press and, later, the Evergreen Review. In 1948 she left to work in Paris and the south of France, where she married Rosset. (They separated in 1951 and divorced the following year.) After returning to New York in 1949, she studied art history at Columbia University and New York University before receiving an MFA in 1950 from the Art Institute. During these first years back in New York, she turned away from the representational and then cubist styles she had previously embraced to work toward abstract expressionism. Although affected by the work of Kandinsky, Mondrian, Arshile Gorky, Philip Guston, and Jackson Pollock, she most admired the paintings of her friends Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline. Still, Cézanne and van Gogh remained ever close to her heart. By the time of her first one-person New York show in 1952, she had established her fundamental approach featuring exuberant, linear brushwork. Mitchell returned often to France and by the end of the 1950s had effectively become an expatriate. Although she continued to maintain a New York apartment, she did nearly all of her painting in France. From 1955 until 1979 Canadian abstract painter Jean-Paul Riopelle was her companion. In 1967 Mitchell bought a house, soon her year-round residence, northwest of Paris, in Vétheuil. Overlooking the Seine, the two-acre property provided privacy, the visual allure of a garden, and a tangible connection to Monet, who had once lived nearby. Although in declining health during her last years, she continued almost to the end to paint with undiminished power and elegance. She died in a Paris hospital.

Subjects: Art.

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