Begun in 1975, Aires Pour Marion is one of Joan Mitchell's earliest all-over canvases, one of a suite of paintings that occupied her attention for over a decade. Across two large conjoined canvases, the artist's spirited brushstrokes conjure up a fervent combination of color and energy as areas of frenetic brushwork happily cohabit with more substantial passages of color. Aires Pour Marion, which very loosely translates as "space or area for Marion," was painted during a bittersweet time in the artist's life when her turbulent relationship to artist Jean-Paul Riopelle was coming to an end. This sense of loss can be seen in the surface of the work, with its tempestuous combination of fully loaded brushstrokes and pigment squeezed directly from the tube coalescing with a sense of fervent energy. However, it was also a liberating time for the artist, as during this period Mitchell finally released her brushstrokes from the confines of the central core of the canvas that had dominated her composition until only a few years earlier. With a work such as this, she began to allow herself to fully explore the entire surface of the canvas, resulting in some of the most intensely invigorating works of her career.
Distinguished by a flurry of short, staccato brushstrokes, Mitchell unleashed the full force of her energetic painting style across the surface of Aires Pour Marion. Across these two expansive canvases the artist carefully choreographed passages of bright, vibrant reds and dark opalescent blues interspersed with jewel-like flashes of iridescent color. The left-hand portion gives off an almost palpable sense of heat, as her red and orange brushstrokes dance skyward like flames in a fire. Scattered amongst these are a dazzling array of sparkling tones: greens, blues and yellows jostling for attention as they try to force their way to the surface. Facing them on the opposing panel is a more austere and somber assortment of darker, mysterious tones. The dominant palette here is blue, ranging in tone from wisps of sky blues to deep, almost black hues that coalesce into more solid passages along the lower and right hand edges. In addition to the visual richness of her palette, Mitchell lavished the surface of the canvas with a rich variety of her painterly marks. From robust daubs of thick impasto to gossamer thin strands, the entire range of Mitchell's technique unveils itself as the eye travels across the surface of the canvas.
According to her biographer, Patricia Albers, Aires Pour Marion was a significant canvas for Mitchell, and one with which she struggled for several months (P. Albers, Lady Painter, New York, 2011, p. 341). The title refers to one of Mitchell's beloved dogs, Marion, a German shepherd that was the daughter of another dog, Iva, that was given to Mitchell and Riopelle by a friend in the early 1970s. Iva became a central part of her life, so much so that one day Mitchell exclaimed, "She's the total extension of me, or I am of her. I don't know which way you want to put it" (J. Mitchell quoted by J. Bernstock, Joan Mitchell, New York, 1988, p. 134). When Iva gave birth to two puppies, Mitchell named one dog Marion (after her mother, Marion Strobel Mitchell) and the other, Madeleine. Over the next few years, Mitchell devoted her life in Vétheuil to these three dogs and with its dense web of closely interwoven brushstrokes Aires Pour Marion evokes what some have seen as a symbolic nest for one of the only souls that she truly felt close to at this emotionally complex time. The lyrical nature of these brushstrokes also has parallels to her mother's career as a poet in her native Chicago. As she grew older, Mitchell began to acknowledge her mother's impact on her own life and career and, although working in two completely different expressive forms, similarities have been drawn between Mitchell's and her mother's artistic talents, as pointed out by Albers. "Her [Marion's] work is sensitive, lyrical, self-involved (though never confessional), and sometimes brittle.at its finest, her pure and expertly molten language, pour into lines as perfect as ingots of Bessemer steel" (P. Albers, Lady Painter, op. cit.,p. 35).
Despite or, perhaps, compelled by her personal circumstances at the time, Mitchell was nonetheless producing work in the mid-1970s that was electrifying both in terms of compositional and chromatic integrity. A breakthrough exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1974 acknowledged her confident prowess in developing an exhuberant and distinctive painting style viewable through the prism of Abstract Expressionism. Begun in 1975, Aires Pour Marion unveils her connection with such fellow practioners as Willem de Kooning, with whom she shared a preference to use abstraction as a means to show, rather than conceal, subject matter. Her brushstrokes reveal the essence of her chosen subject, be it the glorious French countryside in bloom or the warmth and energy of a beloved pet.
Mitchell was a great admirer of Henri Matisse, especially the vividness of his color and vivacity of his line, once claiming that, "If I had the chance to choose one painting to live with, I'd take the whole dance and music scene of Matisse, those great big murals with fabulous greens, reds and blues. Give me a room like that....If I could paint like Matisse, I'd be in heaven" (J. Mitchell, quoted in J. Bernstock, op. cit., p. 143). In Aires Pour Marion, Mitchell channeled the scale, the intensity of color and rhythmic energy of her inspiration into a tour-de-force of technical and poetic brilliance.