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  • Writer's pictureWILLIAM A SLOAN

Carry Your Landscapes with You

Joan Mitchell was an idea.

A seemingly impossible idea – a successful (in her own lifetime) and respected (in her own lifetime) and honored (in her own lifetime) female abstract expressionist painter. One of the very few acknowledged woman artists in a pseudo-macho art era when many of their male counterparts were stunningly insecure, psychologically fragile and emotionally damaged.

She had issues, no doubt. Who doesn’t? But she worked and dared and excelled and lived life on her own terms. Her story reads like it was written for the movies – the ongoing education and experimentation, the romances with interesting creative men, the life in France, the poetic thread that runs through everything. Even her look – part Bogart, part Bacall – had a throwaway coolness that’s never gone out of style.

And all of this is just background for her work. Big, bold, aggressive, energized with a lyrical quality and underlying beauty lacking in the work of most of her male counterparts. When you’re not used to abstract art, it can often seem too in-your-face, I think. Too easy to write off as scribbles and drips. But if you give it time and free up any preconceived notions and let the paintings look back at you, they often feel like moving, literally moving, pictures with an atmosphere all their own. And you find yourself enveloped in someone else’s memory and it’s a strange and fascinating thing.

Years ago, Joan Mitchell’s art didn’t make sense for me. I didn’t get it. But as I’ve matured and my own memories and experiences have multiplied, I can relate in a very different way. And isn’t that what art is about? I think so, in some way.

Because every painting, no matter how realistic, is an abstraction of reality and a personal story. Take the time to look...and listen, because there’s poetry in the choices made and music in the brushstrokes.

I paint from remembered landscapes that I carry with me – and remembered feelings of them which of course become transformed. I could certainly never mirror nature. I would more like to paint what it leaves with me. – Joan Mitchell

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