- Joan Mitchell
- Atlantic Side
- signed twice
- oil on canvas
- 87 x 84 inches
221 x 213.4 cm
B. C. Holland, Inc., Chicago
Peter Bensinger, Chicago (acquired from the above in 1962)
Linda W. Olin, Chicago
Christie's, New York, November 13, 2007, Lot 34
Acquired by the present owner from the above
New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, American Abstract Expressionists and Imagists, October - December 1961, cat. no. 39, p. 60, illustrated
Chicago, The David and Alfred Smart Gallery, The University of Chicago, Abstract Expressionism: A Tribute to Harold Rosenberg, Paintings and Drawings from Chicago Collections, October - November 1979, cat. no. 26, not illustrated
Palo Alto, Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University, Extended Loan, October 2000 - December 2002
Klaus Kertess, Joan Mitchell, New York, 1997, p. 181 (text)
Atlantic Side possesses a visual authority that summons the viewer to imagine the physicality of Mitchell’s creative process while experiencing the intoxicating expressiveness of its outcome. Unlike any other artist, male or female, apart from Jackson Pollock, Mitchell employed the very medium of the viscous oil as a conduit capable of transmitting her anger, passions and fears. Just as Pollock’s emotional furor was communicated directly from the can to the surface in his “drip” paintings, Mitchell wielded the brush with talismanic bravura, and occasionally translated her angst by vigorously flinging or smearing the paint onto the canvas by hand. Gathered as if by centripetal force at the center of the canvas, Mitchell’s passion-laden swathes of paint, free-flowing drips and staccato strokes swirl together into a layered mass of pure artistic energy. Despite the seemingly haphazard nature of the composition, Mitchell’s art-making was "more calculating, more consciously in search of beauty than her predecessors," the near-mythical men of Abstract Expressionism. (Klaus Kertess, Joan Mitchell, New York, 1997, p. 22) She methodically sketched before she started painting, and she was constantly evaluating and judging her canvases throughout her creative process. Mitchell was not solely attempting to paint emotions like her counterparts in the school of heroic Action Painters. In interviews with Marcia Tucker, Mitchell stated, “I’m not involved with ‘isms’ or what is ‘à la mode.’ I’m very old fashioned, but not reactionary. My paintings aren’t about art issues.” (Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Joan Mitchell, 1974, p. 6)
In 1959, Mitchell relocated from New York to Paris where she moved into a small studio at 10, rue Frémicourt. Whereas Mitchell often felt overshadowed or marginalized in the competitive and male-dominated group of New York Abstract Expressionists, Paris allowed the artist to find her voice and develop her own independent style and vision. John Ashbery remarked on Mitchell’s move, “It seems that such an artist has ripened more slowly and naturally in the Parisian climate.” (John Ashbery, “An Expressionist in Paris,” Art News, no. 64, September 1965, p. 63). In 1960, only a year after moving to Paris and around the date of execution for the present work, Mitchell had her first solo exhibition at the Galerie Neufville.
The early 1960s was a dark period in Mitchell’s personal life as her mother was diagnosed with cancer in 1960 and her father passed away from heart disease in 1963. Mitchell’s work in Paris, particularly between 1960 and 1962, reflected her personal turmoil as she experimented with pure, unapologetic abstraction. Strong, wild brushstrokes surge across Atlantic Side in an explosive rage, but the thick masses of paint are offset by delicate drips splashed on the surface. The contrast of forms creates a tension indicative of restraint, as if Mitchell is holding something back. Those who knew Joan described her anger as constantly bubbling below the surface; similarly, her paintings from this period give off a feeling of violence, but it is restrained and tempered. Mitchell described her paintings from the 1960s as “very violent and angry paintings…[I was] trying to get out of a violent phase and into something else.” (Linda Nochlin, “Joan Mitchell: A Rage to Paint,” in Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, The Paintings of Joan Mitchell, 2002, p. 50) Yet unlike her subsequently titled Black Paintings—a group of canvases created from 1963 to 1967— Atlantic Side evokes none of the chaotic elements of the latter. As a schematic landscape, it is a testament to the pioneering advancement Joan Mitchell achieved in rendering radiant abstractions that celebrated the visual possibilities within her strictly gestural, original and brilliant process. What is extraordinarily unique about Mitchell is her ability to channel and transmute this anger into a “rage to paint,” as Linda Nochlin describes. The resulting paintings, like Atlantic Side, are stunning, yet fiercely feminine interpretations of Abstract Expressionism.
The stylistic shift that occurred between Mitchell’s paintings of the late 50s and those of the early 60s, exemplified by the present work, can be considered as a graceful yet deliberate evolution. A centralized mass of unrestrained color replaced the all-over composition of her earlier work, resulting in a concentrated zone of sheer painterly force. Atlantic Side in its eminent and luminous grandeur evidences the fascinating disconnect between Mitchell's emotional state and her chosen mode for representation. The surface of the present work unites meaning and emotional intensity and seeks no allusions to the tribal or the mythic. Mitchell unapologetically reverted to the facture of her brushstroke to convey the power of memories and experiences, themes she professed as the basis of her painting. Only a profound understanding and devotion to the gesture—whether as calligraphic, spilled, dotted, thinned, blurred, smudged or scraped—can emanate such powerful intensity. The painting is a lyrical transcendence in which Mitchell titillates between abstraction into landscape, existing through the physical act of painting.
Klaus Kertess notes an affinity between Mitchell and another expatriate American artist working in Europe: “In these same years, [Cy] Twombly’s expressiveness, like Mitchell’s, blossomed into fullness. The jubilant lyricism of his paintings with its frequent scatological references and discursive writerly markmaking pulsed with subjective metaphoricality. …Both Mitchell and Twombly played a major role in keeping drawing vividly alive on painting’s surface.” (Klaus Kertess in Exh. Cat., New York, Cheim & Read, Joan Mitchell: Frémicourt Paintings 1960-1962, 2005, n.p.) The complex graphic nature of Mitchell’s technique, like that of Cy Twombly, possesses indisputable communicative powers. Wholly abstract, and entirely unencumbered by figuration, Atlantic Side nonetheless conveys a clear and forceful message. As we travel through the multitudinous textured strokes of paint that populate this expansive canvas we perceive a dual narrative: we are witness both to Mitchell’s artistic fervor and to her personal turmoil. As with the finest examples of Joan Mitchell’s art, biography, method and medium all coalesce in Atlantic Side, resulting in an endlessly fascinating and engrossing viewing experience.