New York – Joan Mitchell: “Trees” at Cheim & Read Through August 29th, 2014

August 10th, 2014

Joan Mitchell, Cypresses (1975), via Cheim and Read
Joan Mitchell, Cypresses (1975), all images courtesy Cheim & Reid

On view at Cheim & Read in New York is an exhibition composed of seven large-scale canvases by Chicago-born painter Joan Mitchell, presented in collaboration with the Joan Mitchell Foundation. Spanning a long stretch of her career, the works on view were inspired by the form and structure of trees, painted in an expressionistic way, and will remain on view through August 29, 2014.

Joan Mitchell, Trees (Installation View)
Joan Mitchell, Trees (Installation View)

Joan Mitchell (1925-1992) was one of the few female members of the New York School – and a leading member at that. Much of her career took place in France, but she was still an essential member of the “second generation” American Abstract Expressionist movement. Just last month, Mitchell became the most expensive female artist at an auction with an impressive performance during Christie’s contemporary evening sale that saw an untitled 1960 canvas selling for $11,925,000. Her work has been said to “redefine the parameters of gestural abstraction” – characterized, as noted by John Yau in his essay in the accompanying catalogue, not by a stream-of-conscious assembly of brushtrokes, but rather through a precise and thoughtful construction, fostering “animated eloquence…” and showing evidence that “rigor and expressiveness are not mutually exclusive activities.”

Joan Mitchell, Tilleul (Linden Tree) (1978), via Cheim and Read
Joan Mitchell, Tilleul (Linden Tree) (1978)

The paintings in this exhibition date from 1964 to 1991, and are prime examples of Mitchell’s expressionist explorations of the structure of natural landscapes, which she has approached in many different ways throughout her career. These works are focused solely on her paintings of trees, or the essence of trees, a form that the artist continually returned to as a starting ground for expressive exploration and interpretation. Her work, using flowing lines and often sharp contrast in color and form, aims to “define a feeling,” capturing nature’s essence of “being alive.”

Joan Mitchell, Trees (Installation View)
Joan Mitchell, Trees (Installation View)

Mitchell was greatly inspired by Van Gogh’s brushtroke techniques and Cezanne’s mark-making and color choices, as well as the divided forms of Mondrian’s tree paintings. For Mitchell, her body impacted her reaction to her surroundings immensely. As she grew ill, both mentally and physically towards the end of her life, her paintings reflect her personal struggle – so as to say, her works are expressive of her “own internal landscape” as well as that of her natural surroundings.  Works shift in form and approach throughout the show, reflecting Mitchell’s continued reinvention of her style, in opposition to the limits her ailing body imposed on her work.   As she herself said, “Painting is a means of feeling ‘living.’”

Trees will continue at Cheim & Read, located at 547 West 25 Street, New York, through August 29, 2014.

Joan Mitchell, Trees (Installation View)
Joan Mitchell, Trees (Installation View)

Joan Mitchell, Trees (Installation View)
Joan Mitchell, Trees (Installation View)

—E. Baker

Related Links:
Exhibtion Page [Cheim & Read]