Joan Mitchell's Landscape Paintings are the Perfect Digital Antidote
Visual consumption today often puts a premium on hyper-proximity. Television and camera technology allow viewers to fixate on images down to every last pore and wrinkle, while the framing on phones and social media apps encourages myopic frames of reference. There is a deep pleasure, then, in the knowledge that Joan Mitchell’s paintings, the subject of the show Joan Mitchell: I carry my landscapes around with me at the David Zwirner gallery in New York from May 3-June 22, were intended to be viewed from a distance. Farsighted from an early age, Mitchell would often look at her own works through a glass to establish how they would appear from afar.
This is not to say that Mitchell’s oeuvre doesn’t benefit from close-ups: one could easily and happily get lost in the fervent forest of her brushstrokes and I carry my landscapes around with me, presented in collaboration with The Joan Mitchell Foundation, has plenty of opportunities for such cerebral wandering. Mitchell was a Chicago-born (in 1925) abstract expressionist who spent much of her career living and working in France before her death in 1992. Spanning four decades, the David Zwirner show focuses on Mitchell’s multi-panel works: she was one of the few artists of the New York School group who worked with polyptych compositions.
From her studio in Vetheuil, a commune northwest of Paris where Claude Monet also lived, Mitchell painted alone, toiling on two panels at a time, often relying on her memory of what transpired on other panels she had finished. One of the exhibit’s earliest entries is La Seine (1967), a quadriptych that exemplifies Mitchell’s belief that “if the painting works, the motion or movement is made still like a fish trapped in ice.” Meanwhile Sunflowers (1990-1991), finished in the years before she died, alludes to the influence of Paul Cézanne on her interest in light and color.
The show takes its title from a Mitchell quote from 1958: “I paint from remembered landscapes that I carry with me—and remembered feelings of them, which of course become transformed. I could certainly never mirror nature. I would like more to paint what it leaves with me.” What it leaves us with is a fresh reminder of the importance of perspective—and the beauty of time and distance.