Triumphantly heralding an irrepressible joie de vivre, No Room at the End is an arresting testament to the visual dynamism and profound emotive force of Joan Mitchell’s inimitable painterly oeuvre. A magnificent example of her commanding paintings of the late 1970s, the densely layered surface of the present work powerfully evokes the lush countryside of the artist’s home in Vétheuil, engulfing the viewer in a sensory tide of blooming countryside. Simultaneously, coursing across the monumental dual canvases, Mitchell’s impassioned strokes reveal an emotive intensity that transforms the riotously abstract painting into a vessel of profound self-expression. Reflecting upon the intimately personal nature of Mitchell’s practice, poet Nathan Keman notes that Mitchell’s paintings reveal an “attention to the most fleeting sensations; to her feelings; to remembered images of landscape, which she carried with her and which she re-visualized as marks made on canvas.” (Exh. Cat., New York, Cheim & Read, Joan Mitchell: The Presence of Absence, 2002, n.p.) A visual tour-de-force of color, gesture, and exhilarating painterly bravura, No Room at the End is wholly demonstrative of an artist at the apex of her expressive painterly abilities.
Executed on a truly monumental scale, No Room at the End constitutes a remarkable sensory engagement with the artist’s beloved countryside home in France. Founded in a visionary love of nature, combined with a painterly idiom rooted in abstraction, Mitchell’s oeuvre forged a conceptual union between the gestural canvases of the American Abstract Expressionists and the profoundly rich painterly idioms of the European Impressionists. Although Mitchell spent the first years of her career as a female painter within the predominantly male New York School, her relocation to Paris in 1959, then to the countryside of Vétheuil in 1968, afforded her the critical conceptual distance and creative freedom to create her own, utterly unique artistic practice. The artist’s home, surrounded by an expansive garden in which Mitchell planted sunflowers and other vibrant blossoms, brought an inimitable sense of joy to the paintings she executed between 1968 and the late 1970s. Mitchell’s biographer Patricia Albers declares, “From the time she acquired Vétheuil, its colors and lights pervaded her work. Loose allover quilts of limpid blues, greens, pinks, reds, and yellows… fairly burble, their colored lines and shapes registering a painter’s fast-moving hands as they rise steeply, floating between inner and outer worlds, to jostle and bank at their tops.” (Patricia Albers, Joan Mitchell: Lady Painter, New York, 2011, pp. 313-314) The abundant natural beauty of the French countryside is powerfully embodied in the vigorous layering of dense, jewel-toned pigment in the present work; rendered with an energetic gestural gusto, lush swaths of sunflower yellow, shimmering blue, and a subtle, earthy orange bloom across the monumental canvas to surround the viewer in the fragrant atmosphere of a springtime garden. The result is a composition evocative of the painterly abandon of de Kooning, the luminous vibrancy of Francis, and the exquisite specificity of Monet.
In their unapologetic vitality, Mitchell’s monumental works of the 1970s number among the most striking and painterly examples of the artist’s career. The sheer size of the present work, which spans almost twelve feet in width, testifies to the confidence and ambition of Mitchell’s artistic practice following her move to Vétheuil; indeed, unlike her Frémicourt studio, where oversized canvases had to be rolled in order to enter and exit the space, therein preventing the artist from covering her canvases in layers of sumptuous impasto, the high-ceilinged workspace in Vétheuil afforded the artist ample room to execute her towering theses on abstraction. While Mitchell’s earlier paintings interspersed vivid pigment with areas of blank canvas, the lush density of the present work is echoed in other monumental paintings of the same year, such as Rosebud, in the collection of the Albright-Knox, and Posted, held by the Walker Art Center; prefiguring her celebrated La Grande Vallée series of the early 1980’s, Mitchell’s swift, vigorous and thick mark-making in these paintings culminates in a luminous and buoyant image. Jane Livingston aptly reflected on this decisive transition in the artist’s oeuvre: “In terms of sheer largeness of vision, of solving painterly problems with an almost incredible audacity, these oversize pictures from the 1970s have few rivals in all of modern American painting… It can be argued that these works mark Mitchell’s ascendancy to a level that few artists have attained, an achievement that would set the stage for her work to come.” (Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, The Paintings of Joan Mitchell, New York, 2002, p. 35)
Consistent with Mitchell’s celebrated work of the 1970’s, the mesmerizing mixture of thick, emotive swathes of paint and looser, more spontaneous drips and strokes exhibited in No Room at the End suggests a corresponding progression towards greater emotional depth on the part of the artist. Noting this shift in the artist’s oeuvre, Klaus Kertess notes, “In 1975, Mitchell began to blur and bury the rhythmic rectangularity of her work in a heavily impastoed opacity, and then released an unremitting rain of strokes that engulfed most of her paintings, through 1984, in a passionately pulsing ‘alloverness.’ The larger size and scale mastered in the first half of the seventies now acquired greater visual and emotional depth. As she reached the age of fifty, her sense of wonder in nature not only remained intact but continued to expand, while her fear and rage at human loss had hardly subsided…Mitchell’s paintings now took on the full ripeness of maturity; furious intimacy gave way to a fuller understanding that her aloneness was as universal as it was uniquely personal. Her remembrances became more sonorous and varied.” (Klaus Kertess, Joan Mitchell, New York, 1977, pp. 34-35) Underlying the luminous blues and yellows of the present work, Mitchell’s thick black strokes instill No Room at the End with the poignant rhythm of experience, grounding the otherwise effervescent composition in maturity. In her unrepentant emphasis upon mark, each stroke retaining its autonomy whilst corresponding to a larger cohesive image, Mitchell’s canvas recalls the psychical intensity of van Gogh’s landscapes of the 1880’s. Of Mitchell, Kertess notes, “From painting to painting, there was a greater variety of color, mood, and format. The indivisibility between the strokes as a unit of visual structure and the stroke as a unit of intertwining natural and emotional forces reflects the influence of van Gogh, the powerful directness of his mark making that merged the seen with the felt.” (Klaus Kertess, Joan Mitchell, New York, 1977, p. 35) This intensification of emotive and painterly force is exemplified in No Room at the End as, in a joyful comingling of hues and texture, Mitchell renders the lush vibrancy which surrounded her; it is as if the sumptuousness of both sentiment and pigment has exceeded the canvas’ ability to hold them and they have burst free, coursing down the canvas face in a rain of pictorial dynamism.
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