Woman of the Week | Joan Mitchell

Our 'Woman of the Week' series celebrates the women of the past and present that epitomise The Unstated woman. Resilient, benevolent, progressive and inspirational, these women are pioneers of the modern age. 



This week we commemorate esteemed American artist Joan Mitchell. One of the few female artists in the "second generation" American Abstract Expressionist movement, Mitchell wasn't confined to the expectations of women in the era that she lived and worked, or intimidated by the male-dominated art establishment, this may be due to her unorthodox upbringing. Born in Chicago, Illinois to a dermatologist James Herbert Mitchell and poet Marion Strobel Mitchell was encouraged to nurture her creative disposition, frequently attending Saturday art classes at the Art Institute and summer schools at the Chicago Art Institute run art community, Ox-Bow. Joan Mitchell went onto study at the university and Smith College earning a BFA and MFA in 1947 and 1950. 



Shortly after graduating from her MFA, Mitchell started to make a name for herself in the New York art scene. Inspired by the works and ideologies of artists like Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, Franz Kline, William de Kooning, Jackson Pollock and Hans Hofmann, Joan Mitchell was producing expressive, expansive works with bold gestural brushstrokes and a warm nature-influenced or monochrome palette. Grandes Carrières (1961-62) and Plate (folio 16) from The Poems (1960) exemplify Mitchell's aptness for convey emotion and state-of-mind through the stoke of a brush.  Speaking on her work she once said, "I try to eliminate clichés, extraneous material," and on another occasion,


 "I paint from remembered landscapes that I carry with me—and remembered feelings of them, which of course become transformed."


The earnest and uncontrived nature of Joan Mitchell's works attribute to their ability to resonate with a vast plethora of people. 


Mitchell's work was exhibited in the eminent “Ninth Street Show,” curated by art dealer revered Leo Castelli at the Artists’ Club in Greenwich Village. Following this Joan Mitchell's work was featured in many exhibitions in the USA and internationally, bringing her name to a wider audience.


In the present day Joan Mitchell's works are featured in the collections of the Paris' Centre Georges Pompidou, New York's The Museum of Modern Art and London's Tate Modern, and in 2018 her her painting Blueberry (1969), sold at Christie’s for $16.6 million, setting a record for Mitchell, and the value of her works and Joan Mitchell herself continues to grow with time. 


Joan Mitchell was self-assertive against the adversities of being a female artist, and this is evident in the fact that she is held in equal regard many of her male contemporaries and still remains a significant figure in the second generation American Abstract Expressionist movement and modern art in large. 


Joan Mitchell Quotes


“I think women are inclined more than men to be self-destructive, and I really think I had the masochistic medal there for a while.”


“Sometimes I don’t know exactly what I want [with a painting]. I check it out, recheck it for days or weeks. Sometimes there is more to do on it. Sometimes I am afraid of ruining what I have. Sometimes I am lazy, I don’t finish it or I don’t push it far enough. Sometimes I think it’s a painting.”


"Abstract is not a style. I simply want to make a surface work. This is just a use of space and form: it's an ambivalence of forms and space." 


“Don’t be worried about rejection. I say that now. It’s terrible, I asked one of my dealers years ago ‘If I don’t sell are you going to dump me?’ And he said, ‘Sure.’ But sales don’t make a show.”