Joan Mitchell

Cheim & Read
547 West 25th Street
October 27, 2016–December 31, 2016

Joan Mitchell, Heel, Sit, Stay, 1977, oil on canvas, 110 x 126".

For Joan Mitchell, painting was a suspended kinesthesia, an act that both dilated and disallowed bodily control, like riding a bicycle with no hands. Displayed here in a four-decade sweep alongside pastels and watercolors, her canvases make a case for the mnemonic. Though never explicitly figurative, they suggest scenes less seen than remembered. Each collects moods manifesting as gestures: dense clots, gooey smears, and wispy sprays. Together, they vex binaries of facture and image, positing the mark as a device that joins materiality and affect.

In 1959, Mitchell quit New York for France, eventually settling on 12 Avenue Claude Monet in Vétheuil. Heel, Sit, Stay, 1977, channels the founding Impressionist’s favored theme—nature, imaged on water—creating a surface that we both skip across and peer through. Each side of the ten-foot-tall diptych riffs on the other. The right side collects tufted, saturated strokes; the left responds in a springy staccato. Complementary colors organize the scheme: Rusted greens round into bruised reds, and cobalt blues appose acid yellows, like sunshine hitting shade. All around, paint piles up and runs down, obtaining a state between stillness and motion.

Nearby, an untitled eight-part pastel from 1978 asserts a tenuous horizon. Dashes of fuchsia and lime hyphenate adjoining pages, while tangles of black anchor their spread, obeying borders. White scumbles passages of lavender and azure, dissolving discrete strokes into a cumulous haze. Spread across so many sheets, space resolves into a fragmented continuity. As in the best of Mitchell’s paintings, the composition sinks toward the edges of our vision, immersing us in a realm where landscape loosens into feeling.

Courtney Fiske