Friday, 20 August 2010

Joan Mitchell

I found the coverage of the Joan Mitchell retrospective exhibition at Inverleith House in Edinburgh on last night’s Culture Show really interesting (although that presenter is a bit irritating).

Joan Mitchell, 'Cypress', oil on canvas

I’ve been a bit of an admirer of Mitchell’s paintings for a few years and always really enjoyed them whenever I’ve seen them (they have a great one at Tate Modern), but have never known much about her and neglected to look further. Which apparently is not surprising according to last night’s feature. She is often overlooked when the Abstract Expressionists of which she belonged, and more than held her own in the notorious Cedar Bar fights and drinking bouts, are discussed. She was also, it is said, terrible at discussing her painting (but isn’t everybody? And those who can do all the talking are often the ones that can’t do any of the making in my experience…).

And yet I’ve often had a sly eye on these wonderful paintings, and certainly held them in my mind, when I’ve been developing my more painterly nature paintings in the last couple of years. Mitchell’s work, although almost entirely abstract, based a lot of it’s inspiration on her relationship with the natural world and used this a s a vehicle to express a range of different psychological states.

Joan Mitchell, 'Chord VII', oil on canvas

I’ve found myself doing this too, but one I’ve found surprising to be exploring as I’ve tried to avoid psychological readings in my work, claiming the ideas in them are purely visual ideas. It’s only in retrospect that I’ve realized how deeply psychological some of the recent work I’ve created is, and how richer the work is for this. The Joan Mitchell paintings in their power and beauty have invigorated in me an underlying desire to push this aspect further across all my work. I think I’ve been afraid of this in the last ten years as I’ve tried to create some distance with my previously heavily narrative paintings which had lost all meaning for me. But changes have crept in without me being too conscious of them, which it is time to take further… I think I’m ready to get out of my comfort zone and some of the corners I’ve painted myself in….

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