Thursday, 31 July 2014

Joan Mitchell, 'Trees' at Cheim & Read Gallery, London

Cheim & Read, in cooperation with the Joan Mitchell Foundation, are exhibiting a series of paintings entitled, 'Trees'. this is a great selection of works from drawings to medium and large sized paintings from her more mature period of work from 1961-1991.

The press release states: 'the paintings in this exhibition are inspired by the form and structure of trees. Known for her expressionistic, visceral explorations of the natural landscape, Mitchell abstracted tree-forms throughout her career, from the richly-hued, interlacing branches of Hemlock, 1956 (Collection Whitney Museum of American Art) to the thick, rectangular-trunked grove in 'Trees', 1990-91. The paintings bristle with energy and emotion; her staccato brushwork, rich color palette and pervading sense of light and composition are at once elegant and rebellious.'

It continues: 'Though rooted in Abstract Expressionism (she was one of the few successful female painters of the New York School), Mitchell’s work redefines the parameters of gestural abstraction. As Yau notes in his catalogue essay, her works are characterized not by a stream-of-conscious, chance assembly of paint-loaded brushstrokes, but by a precise and thoughtful construction which in turn fosters “animated eloquence”:
“For Mitchell…rigor and expressiveness are not mutually exclusive activities.” In many ways, a tree’s inherent structure is analogous to the way in which Mitchell composes her paintings: beginning from an anchored core, her physical gestures create an armature of rhythmic potential, allowing for an expressive lyricism that attempts to, as she says, “define a feeling.” Mitchell succeeds in capturing not only nature’s various visual effects, but also its essence of “being alive.” In 1959, Mitchell moved to France and lived there for the last three decades of her life. The region’s distinctive light, color and atmosphere not only rewarded her sensitivity to the natural world, but also connected her work to a long history of plein air painting. Van Gogh’s charged, vibrating brushstroke and Cezanne’s fusion of mark-making and color greatly informed her practice, as did the structured surfaces and divided forms of Mondrian’s tree paintings.'

These are great visceral works that show a strong body of work developed by an American painter steeped in Abstract Expressionistic energy and yet these works are made and were very much appreciated and exhibited in France, where she spent much of her time from the early sixties onwards, and it is because she lived in France that they suggest a more subtle and sensitive use of colour and brush work, showing an understanding of European painting and abstraction. There is a video of the show here.


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