Joan Mitchell (1925-1992) is celebrated as a prominent figure in the Abstract Expressionist movement, standing shoulder to shoulder with luminaries such as Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. Her artwork is a testament to her unique approach to painting, deeply influenced by her athletic background as a champion figure skater.
Mitchell’s connection between athleticism and art is a fascinating one. She intentionally crafted her paintings to be physical and emotional rather than intellectual, making them more accessible to a broader audience. According to Katy Siegel, co-curator of a Mitchell retrospective at the Baltimore Museum of Art, Mitchell’s large canvases often required her to climb ladders, reflecting the breadth and reach of her body in the creative process. These monumental works immerse viewers in a sensory experience, as if they are inside the painting itself.
For Mitchell, the act of painting was akin to a state of ‘no-hands,’ a term she used to describe losing oneself in the creative process. She believed that painting allowed her to transcend her physical self and enter a realm of pure expression. This emotional and physical connection to her art is what sets Mitchell apart in the world of abstraction.
The upcoming retrospective at the Baltimore Museum of Art, featuring around 75 of Mitchell’s paintings and drawings, provides a unique opportunity to delve into the world of this extraordinary artist. Her work is a testament to the power of art as a means of self-expression and transcending the boundaries of the physical world.
Mitchell’s legacy extends beyond her athletic prowess and her contributions to the Abstract Expressionist movement. Her art serves as a powerful reminder of the emotional and physical dimensions of the creative process, offering viewers a chance to step into her world and experience the unique connection she had with her craft.