Joan Mitchell: Works on Paper 1956-1992 is a recent survey exhibition mounted by Cheim & Read in cooperation with the Joan Mitchell Foundation. This show examines the different stages of the artist's approach to abstraction and how she was able to move from various mediums throughout her long career. Born in 1925 in Chicago Illinois, Mitchell became one of a few successful American female painters of her generation. Along with artist like Lee Krasner, Grace Hartigan, and Helen Frankenthaler they broke ground by showing that women could be just as good as the "boys." As a "Second Generation" Abstract Expressionists, Joan Mitchell became famous for large scale gestural abstractions that combined the energy and intensity of influential painters like Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Franz Kline. Her abstractions have always been lyrical depictions of her surrounding spaces, mostly landscapes, taking colors and shapes found in her daily routine. Mitchell's focus was not to depict but to capture energy by pushing and slashing paint around in enigmatic ways, a style that is dense yet open.
The current exhibition of the artist's work is a more intimate look at her thought process and compositional abilities. The scale of these works on paper, in comparison to her canvas paintings, are smaller and easier to take in. The lines of color are more compact but yet display Mitchell's never decimating energy which flows from piece to piece. Thick and thin dashes of slippery paint move about as she searches for her visions to come to fruition.
Pieces like the two above represent Mitchell's sense of rhythm and spontaneity. Brushstrokes move in every direction of the surface as a if the artists were in search of something she only knows exists. Dabs, lines and other multicolor marks lay above the open space of the paper. Light and air are accentuated by the untouched negative spaces between the shapes. Leaving the painting surface open was a common practice of Mitchell, this is what brought that much needed sense of air to her work. Unlike Pollock's dense layering of drip applications, Mitchell knew when the surface had enough paint for it to be able to breath.
Joan Mitchell delivered a different effect in her pastel pieces. These compositions become more solid and more violent. The relationship between the lines become more intertwined, they seem to be a strive for a strong statement as opposed to a poem set in motion. Mitchell's pastel outbursts touch upon the naive childlike part of the subconscious, an approach to abstraction practiced by many painters of her time. These energetic compositions are no longer the search for truth Mitchell was after in her early years, but are the solid self assured representations of a mature artist who's hands, with a piece of pastel, would lay down strokes without any regrets.