- Joan Mitchell
- A Tribord
- oil on canvas (quadriptych)
After a degree in English literature and Art History from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, Joan Mitchell enrolled at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1994 in order to perfect her training. She spent all her free time visiting the 100 000m² gallery space of this second most important museum in the country, after the Metropolitan. For hours, she stood in front of paintings by Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse. With Van Gogh, she admired the subtle contrasts between bold and complementary colours; with Cézanne, the juxtaposition of geometrical planes vigorously positioned on the canvas, with Matisse, the intensity of light.
From then on, Joan Mitchell developed her own pictorial language, creating an intimate and personal vision of painting. “What excites me when I paint,” she confided in 1986 to the art critic Yves Michaud, “is what one colour does to another and what they both do in terms of space and interaction.” She first moved to New York where she was assimilated with the second school of New York in line with Kline, Motherwell, Pollock or de Kooning, and then from 1955, the year she moved to Paris, she decided to withdraw progressively from the New York scene. She now lived in both the United States and France. In 1967, she moved to Vétheuil, in the Seine valley. It was here she painted A Tribord, one of her most accomplished works, kept in the same French collection since it was painted. The four canvases form a singular polyptych, where the gesture creates a dialogue between nature’s light and shadow.
The blues of the lakes of her childhood, the yellows of the rapeseed fields, deep reds, greens, blacks and greys combine here in transparent swathes. In each panel of this perfectly balanced polyptych, fields of colour emerge from the white background, giving extreme depth to the composition. The motif gives way to coloured sensation. The signs and planes fragment, shorten and twist as if in echo of the last quiverings of the artist’s life. Joan Mitchell thus invites us to reflect upon our own relation to nature, time and space, recurring themes in her work and especially her last works which delve ever deeper into colour.
A moment of grace, a sensory experience, A Tribord also reveals Joan Mitchell’s skill in constructing space which she has always demonstrated. Colour and brushstroke are inseparable. Like imprints, the colours retain the memory of the brush-stroked gesture. By accumulating in the middle of the canvas, the impasto plays with light and attracts the gaze, leading it beyond the canvas to an imaginary elsewhere. The composition seems to pulsate and vibrate beneath our eyes in almost musical fashion.
As Joan Mitchell’s paintings are poems, sonatas which echo the world. They are never about showing nature as it is but rather about transcending it. This impression is increased by the use of the polyptych, structured in sequences which although close to each other, are never united. Mirror effect, reproduction, continuity, linearity of reading, juxtaposition of entities that are both independent and associated…. Joan Mitchell takes us well beyond the third art.
COMPS Cy Twombly Work:
Twombly, Cy (1928-2011): The Four Seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Digitale (1)(A) and Winter, 1993-94. New York, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Synthetic polymer paint, oil, house paint, pencil and crayon on four canvases; Spring: 312.5 x 190 cm; Summer: 314.15 x 201 cm; Autumn: 313.7 x 189.9 cm; Winter: 313 x 190.1 cm. Gift of the artist. Acc. N.: 613.1994.a-d © 2018. Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence © Cy Twombly Foundation
Vincent van Gogh, Meules de foin en Provence, 1888, Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo
Paul Cézanne, Le Jardin des Lauves, 1906