check out the powerful energy and color of,
American 1925 - 1992
for Randall Slaughter *
1950 M.F.A., The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois
1950 Columbia University, New York
1944–47 B.F.A., The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois
1942–44 Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts
One of the finest abstract painters of the twentieth century, Joan Mitchell was a member of the second-generation of Abstract Expressionists based in New York City. She is distinguished from many of her peers through her emphasis on conceiving her designs in stages rather than attempting to work in a fully spontaneous fashion. Creating images, often on multiple panels, she achieved constructed compositional rhythms and privileged an objective “physical materiality” over a subjective response to her subjects. She summed up her aim in the statement of her desire “to convey the feeling of the dying sunflower.” Mitchell’s importance within the Abstract Expressionist movement has become increasingly apparent, especially following the large retrospective of her art, held at the Whitney in New York, in 2002.
Mitchell was born in Chicago in 1926. Her father was a physician who liked to draw and her mother was a published poet and writer. The younger of two girls, she grew up in a cultured household where art and literature were valued. She attended grammar and high school at Francis W. Parker School, a progressive educational institution in Chicago before enrolling at Smith College, where she studied from 1942 to 1944. Mitchell studied art during the summers of 1943 and 1944, when she attended the summer school of the Art Institute of Chicago, held in Saugatuck, Michigan. There she enjoyed the personal freedom and rigorous instruction, including, as she recalled, “six hours of life drawing a day” and “three hours of life painting.” At home on weekends she painted still lifes and landscapes. She received further training at a summer school art program in Guanajuato, Mexico, in 1945 and 1946. In 1947 she completed in only three years the requirements for a BFA that usually took four. The stipend that came with her winning the school's Ryerson Traveling Fellowship allowed her to travel to New York in 1947 while on her way to Europe. Mitchell lived in Europe in 1948-1949. In 1950 as she was ready to go back to the states she married Barney Rosset, the future publisher who was also from Chicago, and the pair returned to live in New York City.
In 1961, ten years of her abstract expressionist paintings was the subject of an exhibition at the University of Southern Illinois in Carbondale. Mitchell, who at the time of the exhibition was already in the position of having major corporations including Chase Manhattan Bank and Union Carbide collect her paintings, never saw the show. She was then living in France. Mitchell had started returning to Paris in 1955. That year she was introduced to the French-Canadian painter Jean-Paul Riopelle, whom she had a twenty-four year relationship with. She began going back and forth between Paris and New York City in the late 1950s spending summers in East Hampton with Rosset. In 1959 she moved to France and remained in her studio on rue Fremicourt in Paris until relocating to Vétheuil in 1968, a town in the countryside outside Paris where the French Impressionist Claude Monet had painted in the 1880s. Mitchell remained in her home and studio in Vetheuil until her death in 1992.
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