The Museum Ludwig in Cologne is honouring the work of the impressive painter Joan Mitchell with a retrospective. Retrospective. Her Life and Paintings. The exhibition presents works on loan from the Centre Pompidou, the MoMA and the Joan Mitchell Foundation that are little known to date. Mitchell’s extraordinary life is also illuminated here.
Throughout her life, the artist Joan Mitchell (born in Chicago in 1925, died in Paris in 1992) wore her brown hair shoulder-length and with a pony, similar to a Prince Ironheart hairstyle, her glasses round and large. Thus the artist always appeared intellectual and self-confident, which she had to be and wanted to be at her time. But this does not stand in contrast to her excessive lifestyle, on the contrary, it fits her independence. She drank a lot and smoked like her male colleagues.
Joan Mitchell prevailed
The art movement of Abstract Expressionism is associated with artists such as Jackson Pollock or Willem de Kooning. Male artists, for only a few women achieved even close recognition or were able to emerge from the shadow of New York’s male-dominated art world. Joan Mitchell belonged to these few known representatives. “The avant-gardes of the 20th century, including Abstract Expressionist painting, were led by men – but Jackson Pollock and all the others could not stop Joan Mitchell,” writes the Museum Ludwig in its press release.
It was able to assert itself at a time when women had nothing to say in painting. But she wasn’t interested in feminism or in changing society with regard to the image of women. She simply did what she wanted, what she wanted to do. Her success wasn’t planned this way either, “I had it easier, because I never even had the idea of being able to compete with the big ones – after all, I was a woman.
Mitchell’s advance as a painter
Joan Mitchell came from a sheltered background and grew up in Chicago. Her father was a doctor and her mother published a literary magazine. Already now she had to assert herself against a man, her father. He was of the opinion that he could draw anything better than her, simply because he was a man. But in the course of her life she proved him wrong. Early on, in 1959, she took part in documenta II in Kassel.
Mitchell studied art at Smith College in Northampton, at the Art Institute of Chicago, and at Columbia University in New York. She then gained a foothold in New York and, from the 1950s onwards, belonged to the inner core of the art scene through her abstract style of painting. During her studies, she spent some time in Paris on a scholarship, which she quickly loved. From 1955 she moved constantly between New York and France, and from 1968 she finally moved to France. Near Paris in Vétheuil she lived with her partner, the Canadian painter Jean-Paul Riopelle.
She knew how to bring her compositions balanced and the colors in a lyrical interplay on the canvas. During the night she drank Scotch and listened to classical music. Behind every painting there is a feeling, an experience, a memory that she tried to transform poetically into painting, which she succeeded in doing. “Poetic visual language between emotion and calculation”. Perhaps also because of alcohol consumption.
So the brunette artist wasn’t a well-behaved painter, no, rather she could hold a candle to the men around her in all things, be it painting or drinking.