"I get pleasure out of what happens visually,...Feeling, Living, Existing, I think it's all the same thing...Painting is a way of feeling alive".
(Joan Mitchell as quoted in M. Pleynet, Joan Mitchell in France: Painting and Poetry, ex. cat. Joan Mitchell, Ivam Centre Julio Gonzalez, September-December 1997, pg. 30.)
The present lot is an important example of Joan Mitchell's steadfast individuality and immediately recognizable style of painting that radiates with her own unique intensity. As a member of the younger generation of abstract expressionist painters in New York in the 1950s, her combination of the lyrical beauty of landscape and aggressive application of paint made her highly visible. Mitchell's fearless use of unexpected combinations of color created some of the most potent works of abstract painting of her generation. The present painting, executed circa 1960, a high point in her early career, demonstrates the force and vision of this young painter.
As exemplified in this untitled work, Mitchell poured herself into her painting with such unrelenting passion that every stroke is imbued with a sense of palpable tension and feeling. Thick, staccato brushstrokes fully loaded with bright and earthen color dart across the blazing white canvas at strongly opposing angles, creating a tangled mesh of explosive but controlled energy. The web of strokes produces a dazzling light by contrasts of colors separated by areas of blank canvas, sometimes painted over with white. Mitchell's mastery of the techniques of oil painting and careful manipulation of color create an inner radiance increasingly emanating from her canvas.
During the late 1950s Mitchell produced a more energetic and overall composition. By 1959 she had opened up her surfaces, with powerful strokes slashing in various directions around a central core. Thick, muscular strokes of boldly contrasting reds and greens are heavily concentrated in the center, providing a strong horizontal support for the dynamic activity. Wide swaths of sienna and drips allow the act of painting and the physical qualities of paint to become apparent. Unexpected combinations of color energize the canvas, with bursting yellow- gold brushstrokes that appear to have overcome the hovering weight of rich earthen tones. The energetic physical gesture is infused with a romantic sensibility for nature's activity, both calm and violent.
The rich palette of the present work is particularly notable, and recalls the vivid palette of late Monet. This painting notably shares the lush coloration and rhythm of Waterlilies, Sunset, executed during 1915- 26. Mitchell deftly uses selective passages of white to heighten the jewel and earth tones, which also imparts a sense of expansiveness and space to the densely interlaced strokes of color. Vibrant, agitated short strokes of cobalt blue and magenta collide with longer whiplash strokes, imparting a perpetual sense of restless movement throughout the canvas. Mitchell intentionally obscured the typical duality of figure and ground in this painting, in some areas leaving the canvas blank and in others using white paint, creating ambiguity between spatial planes that are locked together. Yet the center of the canvas, most densely built up with an accumulation of expressive stabs of paint, serves as a center of gravity for the restless composition, like the eye of a storm.
Throughout her evolution as an abstract painter, Mitchell consistently sought to converge her interests in nature, emotion, and painting. Mitchell's works frequently refer to landscape, however the paintings are not of the nature of things seen, but are an expression of sensations and emotions felt. The captured movement of light and color in this painting is a constant characteristic of Mitchell's painted memories of and responses to landscape. This exemplary work offers a poetic meditation on the feelings that memories of landscape inspire.