Joan Mitchell, a second generation Abstract Expressionist painter, was one of the few women to break into the male-dominated New York School. She took part in the 1951 “Ninth Street Show,” which marked the ascendancy of the male-dominated Abstract Expressionism. She became one of the best known American female painters of that decade.
From 1951 to 1958, she worked in a studio in Greenwich Village, and her paintings of New York’s cityscapes was infused with vibrancy through her use of scattered lines, vibrant colors, skittering gestures, drips and slashes, and thrusting layouts.
In 1959, she moved to Paris and in 1967 relocated from Paris to Vetheuil, a town in the Seine Valley, where Monet lived. Mitchell’s art went through stages in France. In the early 1960s there were ferocious paintings of splatters and drips. Then hovering shapes appeared in muted greens, grays, and blues, suggesting trees or landscapes. Mitchell called these works “black paintings” even though there’s almost no black in them at all. In the early 1970s, she produced vividly colored multi-panel paintings of suggestive landscapes in balanced abstraction.
Her 1980s paintings have been described as enlargements of details from earlier pictures with the brushstrokes isolated and bolder. In these paintings from her last decade Mitchell filled every square inch of her towering, wall-size canvases with decisive brushstrokes in vibrant colors of blue, yellow, orange, violet, lavender, and green – all laid down with speed. At times she worked in pairs on huge panels, that she would first paint separately and then join together to form a single mural-scale abstraction. Her paintings, with their plain white backgrounds, evoked a luminous natural light and belonged to a lyrical tradition in art, depicting a flowered world of richness and bloom.
Her paintings have been exhibited worldwide with retrospective surveys held at the Whitney Museum, Birmingham Museum of Art, and the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C. In 2020, the Baltimore Museum of Art will mount a major retrospective of her work, which will travel to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and New York’s Guggenheim Museum.
Her work can be found in numerous public collections including New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, Tate Gallery, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Centre Georges Pompidou, Seoul’s Samsung Museum, and Japan’s Osaka City Art Museum of Modern Art.