“I’m trying to stop time, or frame it.”
If she had not injured her knee in her teens the abstract expressionist painter Joan Mitchell may well have become a major competitive figure skater rather than an artist with a major international reputation. For unlike most post World War II American women Mitchell had the grit, the determination and the drive to shape her world rather than be shaped by it.
As she told Bomb Magazine “Oh, my mother was nice to me. I mean her idea would have been your mother’s idea; why try, why go out and compete in Junior Nationals, Senior Pairs. You know what I mean. Why don’t you have a good time, Joanie, why don’t you just skate and have a good time? It seemed very boring to me to do something for a good time because I didn’t know how to have a good time.”
After spending a year painting in France on a post graduate James Nelson Raymond Foreign Traveling Fellowship Mitchell returned to New York in 1950 and immersed herself in its avant-garde art scene. She frequented the Cedar Tavern, the hard drinking watering hole favored by the abstract expressionists and became one of the few women members of their Eighth Street Club where she adopted the nick name, “Lady Painter.”
Begrudgingly accepted as an equal Mitchell was included in their group exhibitions and had her first solo New York show two years later. Mitchell frequently returned to France and at the end of the decade moved their permanently although retaining her ties with her homeland.
As she told the ArtNews “I didn’t move to France . I’m here by default. And now I’m too lazy to move. But I have no attachments here, although it is very beautiful.”
As her work developed so too did the clarity of her vision. As she explained in a 1986 Interview with Yves Michaud “Feeling, existing, living, I think it's all the same, except for quality. Existing is survival; it does not mean necessarily feeling. You can say good morning, good evening. Feeling is something more: it's feeling your existence. It's not just survival. Painting is a means of feeling "living." . . . Painting is the only art form except still photography which is without time. Music takes time to listen to and ends, writing takes time and ends, movies end, ideas and even sculpture take time. Painting does not. It never ends, it is the only thing that is both continuous and still. Then I can be very happy. It's a still place. It's like one word, one image....”
Austria’s Kunsthaus Bregenz is currently showing the exhibition Joan Mitchell Retrospective: Her Life and Paintings until the 25th of October.