In this Art AV Club I take a look at the work of Joan Mitchell and hear her talk about the way she works. I point out the echos of her work in my own work.
I fell down a YouTube rabbit hole recently, like you do. I took an online class and one of the bonus materials was a video about Cy Twombly. After I watched it, I wondered if there were videos on other Abstract Expressionists. And just like all trips down the YouTube rabbit hole, I surfaced several hours later awed by the amazing content and looking for snacks.
Since social media doesn’t allow for easy sharing of this kind of material, I decided to make it a recurring feature on my blog. And just like that, Art AV Club was born! On Mondays, I’ll be posting videos of or about artists and sharing a bit about why what they do intrigues me. I hope you’ll go on this journey with me. The abstract expressionist Joan Mitchell is my pick this week for Art AV Club.
Mitchell is included in Ninth Street Women: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler: Five Painters and the Movement That Changed Modern Art with my fave Helen who I profiled a few weeks ago. I haven’t had the chance to read Joan’s section yet — something to look forward to now that I’ve seen her work and listened to her talk.
I’ve got four clips for you today on Joan but it’s well under 10 minutes of footage. I’ve set out the order on purpose because I want you to see the interplay of her talking about her work and then seeing her work and art historians talking about her work. I didn’t know much about Mitchell until an internet acquaintance tweeted an article about her work recently. I wanted to learn more so decided to include her in Art AV Club.
What happens to you when you paint? My hands get dirty.
Mine too, Joan, mine too. When I first started, having paint on my hands was a badge of honor that I sometimes didn’t wash off for hours. When I looked down and saw my hands I liked the reminder of the work. I love what she says about getting lost in it. I feel those feels.
After hearing her talk about loosing herself in the work and getting her hands dirty. I love looking at this giant, vibrant piece. Also, you know I love this because of the yellow.
Big Joan and Little Joan
Listening to her talk about protecting and nurturing the part of her who paints is a lesson for us all.
Repository of Lived Experience
I love this bit at the end about Mitchell’s goal for painting was that it would be a repository for lived experience. Echoing Rothko’s statement:
I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions – tragedy, ecstasy, doom and so on – and the fact that lots of people break down and cry when confronted with my pictures shows that I communicate those basic human emotions… The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious I had when I painted them. —Mark Rothko, 1957
The stifling realities of a woman painting in a man’s world that Mitchell pushed against persist: “Between 2008 and 2018, artwork by women represented just 11 percent of acquisitions and 14 percent of exhibitions at 26 major museums.” yet “Women earn 70% of bachelor of fine arts and 65–75% of master of fine arts degrees in the U.S., though only 46% of working artists (across all arts disciplines) are women.” from National Museum of Women in the Arts. That last link by the way has some amazing stats about women in the arts but no breakdowns on how Black women or women of color are treated on that page.
Even without knowing exactly who she is, I bear her legacy. Moving quickly, lots of big strokes with bold colors. I’m not putting myself in her league by any means but I hear echos of her work in mine.
Go exploring on your own
I hope you enjoyed this Art AV Club and that it leads you to further explore the works of Joan Mitchell. Her foundation website is a great resource and I particularly enjoyed her digitized sketch books. I’ll be bringing another artist next week so check back on Monday. If there’s an artist you’d like my take on, drop me a note and I’ll put them on the list!