Pulsing with a sensational joie de vivre, Joan Mitchell’s Untitled from 1964 erupts in a riotous mass of sumptuous brushstroke. An exquisite example of one of the artist’s most affecting bodies of work, her Black Paintings of the mid-sixties, the present work commands a presence exemplary of Mitchell’s profoundly emotive abstractions. Through each stroke and each drip, Mitchell signals her total mastery of her chosen medium. In terms particularly evocative of the present work, curator Helen Molesworth describes the poetic lyricism of Mitchell’s oeuvre: “Her deployment of painting’s elemental building blocks—color and stroke—results in paintings that are analogous to poetry. If in poetry language is both sharpened and distilled, both loaded with and emptied of meaning, then in Mitchell’s canvases the elements of paintings—paint, color and canvas—are both themselves and at the same time replete with expressive connotation” (Helen Molesworth in: Exh. Cat., London, Hauser & Wirth, Joan Mitchell: Leaving America, New York to Paris 1958 - 1964, 2007, p. 9).
The central body of vibrant brushwork in Untitled emerges from the cloudiness of a misty grey and pale mauve background. Tones of rich Aegean blue draw viewers in, inviting them to luxuriate in the lush impastoed surface. Curator Klaus Kertess explains the centrality of the color blue to Mitchell’s practice by writing, “Whether the blue that makes darkness visible, the blue of water, the blues in Cézanne, van Gogh and Matisse […] blue was critical to the life of Mitchell's painting" (Klaus Kertess in: Joan Mitchell, New York 1997, p. 29). Swaths of olive green, bright teal, and deep vermillion meld with the blue pigment, creating a sense of spatial depth. The resulting concentration of dark pigment in the center of the work is a void-like repository of feeling and visual depth. Molesworth writes that her “use of a white border intensifies the centrality of her focused compositions [...] Mitchell’s use of white as a framing device also amplified her extraordinary palette, one that traversed the full spectrum of colors” (Helen Molesworth in: Exh. Cat., London, Hauser & Wirth, Joan Mitchell: Leaving America, New York to Paris 1958 - 1964, 2007, p. 8).
Intensely sensual and expressively gestural, Untitled fuses the visual vocabulary of the New York School Abstract Expressionists with the French Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, whose luminous landscapes enacted an equally acute influence upon her work. During the time of the present work’s creation, Mitchell had been living in France, consuming the immeasurable beauty of its lush landscapes. Curator Jane Livingston notes that Mitchell “acknowledged thinking about trees, specifically dusky cypresses seen in a Mediterranean town called Calvi'' during this period (Jane Livingston in: Joan Mitchell, New York 2002, p. 26). Despite Mitchell’s stylistic resonance with Abstract Expressionism, the present work’s clear figure-ground distinction represents a defiance of the Abstract Expressionist dogma of creating an “all-over” composition, as well as a brief stylistic shift in her own practice. Untitled evokes Mitchell’s singular artistic voice, which carries with it the drama of the great European landscapes and the uniquely American techniques of abstraction.
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