JOAN MITCHELL TOLD INTERVIEWER Yves Michaud in 1986, “I imagine a sort of scaffolding made of painting stretchers around a lot of colored chaos as an identity.”1 The terms of Mitchell’s self-image are characteristic in that they point through the self to the work. Instead of a throwaway professional despair (or cosmic acedia at mid career), her “scaffolding” reflects the weathered pragmatism of an improviser who has seen into the heart of her method.

At 62, Mitchell continues to advance a naturalistic mode of improvisational abstract painting at its most limber extensions. She synthesizes effects of landscape and other recollected sensations, and expands upon them in flashes and tangles of paint. Any one of her paintings may dawn on the viewer as the subtlest or most vehement of sense memories spontaneously reified. But she doesn’t notate from the details of a specific view—she uses her

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