New York

Joan Mitchell

Robert Miller Gallery

Joan Mitchell has continued to develop and to paint without relying on critical theory as a buttress for her work. Her development over the past 40 years has been marked by an increasing mastery of line, color, and placement. Mitchell’s recent exhibition included two- and three-paneled paintings, many of which are large in scale. Her inventory of gestural brushwork includes roiling strokes of lush paint, thin arid lines, juicy slaps of color, calligraphic glyphs, and knot-like lines that hover between shape and erasure. Her compositions are made up of specific strokes of color, each of which is a discrete unit. Her gestural notations function like staves: they present their own external form, while being used to enclose something. The unpainted white ground is, more than ever, an integral part of each painting.

In Margin (all works, 1989), Mitchell places vertical blue lines on the left side of the left panel. The right panel consists of three broad, horizontal areas. The upper area is defined by horizontal green, blue, violet, and pink strokes, the middle by vertical green strokes, and the bottom by short meandering strokes of blue, violet, and brown. Mitchell’s gestural lines and notations evoke such specific things and forces as flowers and light, while also conveying their own vivid presence. Mitchell understands nature as a struggle in which each thing is fighting for its own survival and place. For all their airiness, her paintings do not pull the viewer into their spatial realm. Everything, from the vertical and diagonal gestural marks to the stacking up of horizontal strokes, prevents us from getting past the picture plane. Consequently, these paintings offer neither mindless release nor nostalgia for the past. They evoke a sense of heartbreaking isolation without a trace of self-pity. Their dauntless lyricism arises out of an honest confrontation with the particulars of existence.

––John Yau