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Joan Mitchell

“The painting is just a surface to be covered.”

“Painting is a means of feeling.”

– Joan Mitchell

The 1950s brought fresh experiments in abstract imagery by not only Abstract Expressionism’s pioneers, but also a “second generation” of artists. This included the recognition of women artists, including Joan Mitchell, Helen Frankenthaler and Lee Krasner. While these artists adopted the now established tenets of spontaneity, improvisation, and a focus on process, they also replaced the urgent existential visions of their predecessors with more lyrical approaches.

While many prominent Abstract Expressionists titled their paintings with only numbers or dates to focus viewers on the painting itself and to encourage individual interpretations, artists such as Joan Mitchell took a less oblique approach. Not afraid to reference the natural world in her painterly explorations of identity, she encouraged associations by giving her paintings titles such as Ladybug. Mitchell’s painting celebrates nature and landscape, while still a template of her unique individuality.

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Mitchell Timeline

  • 1925 Born in Chicago
  • Mother was professional poet and father was amateur artist
  • Completed MFA at the Art Institute for Chicago
  • Moves to New York in 1949 and becomes immersed in downtown avant-garde art scene
  • 1952 First solo show
  • 1955 Moves to Paris, still spending time in New York until settling permanently in France in 1959
  • Begins relationship in France with Montreal-born painter Jean-Paul Riopelle that lasted 25 years.
  • Included in the important 1957 group exhibition Artists of the New York School: Second Generation at the Jewish Museum, New York.
  • 1967 Purchases an estate in Vétheuil, a small village northwest of Paris, where she continues to paint until her death in 1992 of lung cancer.
  • Her first retrospective exhibition “The Paintings of Joan Mitchell: Thirty-six Years of Natural Expressionism” travels to museums across the US in 1988, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Albright Knox Art Gallery.

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