Estate of the Artist
Cheim & Read, New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above in December 2005
With its vibrant colors and sensuous brushwork, Untitled, 1987 is the embodiment of the self-possession Joan Mitchell found in the twilight of her career. Vivacious yet elegant with its crosshatched brushstrokes and radiant white expanses, the work is an ode to the painterly confidence of the artist's later years. Having moved in 1967 to Vetheuil along the Seine outside of Paris, Mitchell had long been inspired by the verdant French countryside. In the late 1980s, Mitchell cemented her devotion to nature in a series of monumental canvases, such as the present work, each more gestural and emotive than the next. Born out of what is often referred to as her "rage to paint", these epic sonatas with their ecstatic compositions and heightened colors are a summation of her decades of painting.
For Mitchell, painting was a means of capturing life and Vetheuil's ardent colors and dramatic changes of light unleashed a cacophony of emotive fervor which characterized her palette. Her canvases at this time were therefore bathed in a frenzy of deep purples, cerulean blues and sunflower yellows. Mitchell preferred large-scale canvases, often favoring diptychs and triptychs so that the various panels in these heroic compositions could play off of each other. Although some see this as the passage of time, the panels are intended not to be read in a sequence but rather experienced as a whole. "The break between the different pieces creates a rhythm of different space and a dynamic, a vibration." (Jane Livingston in Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art [and traveling], The Paintings of Joan Mitchell, 2002, p.64)
For Mitchell, painting in itself was a means of transcending death. She said, "Painting is the opposite of death, it permits one to survive, it also permits one to live." (Ibid., p.63) Indeed, Mitchell's lush, organic canvases which sought not to represent nature but to capture the emotions and memories that could be inspired by landscapes, radiate life and growth. These mediations on places and the moments they once held are expressions of a deep engagement with life.
Unlike the often spontaneous gestures of other Abstract Expressionist painters, Mitchell's later brushstrokes were deliberate and calculated. The present work is a visual poetry of line, a pulsating push and pull of entangled masses waltzing their way to their foreground. The painting is a series of oppositions - dense rich yellows rest on their diluted sister hues and sinuous diaphanous lines weave their way around choppy impasto strokes. Yet despite this myriad of contradictions Untitled, 1987 embodies the balance and ease that comes with age. Like a number of other great artists such as Willem de Kooning and Paul Cézanne, Mitchell seemed to find an unparalleled grace and harmony in her late works. A new ethereality began to permeate her canvases in the 1980s and like de Kooning it was as though both her paintbrush and her spirit were relieved of the chaos that had plagued her youth. The soft and luminous palette of the present work is like the calm after an endless storm and speaks to new beginnings. Like both de Kooning and Cézanne, Mitchell seemed to have found the merit in reduction; the importance of paying homage to the absence of things.
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