© Estate of Joan Mitchell
The Estate of Joan Mitchell
The Joan Mitchell Foundation
Cheim & Read, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2012
Joan Mitchell (American, 1925-1995) rose to fame as part of the second wave of the Abstract Expressionist movement in 1950s New York City, a rare feminine voice in this brash boy’s club of action painters, matching her peer’s machismo with her bold methodology to painting and composition. Mitchell uniquely abandoned the prevailing understanding of abstraction as nonhierarchical flat overall painting, instead systematically opposing static structural elements with violent passages of colorful gestural improvisation, more concerned with the omnipresence of perceived space, than the theoretical all-encompassing ideal of nonrepresentational painting. A hardnosed iconoclast, Mitchell stayed rooted in the traditional figure ground language of landscape while confidently flying into the heady lofts of form invention, reactive atmospheric transcriptions with a terrestrial tether.
In pleasing contrast to Mitchell’s at times aggressive slashing paint handling in earlier work, we see a softer brush at play in Untitled, 1989, with elusive open glazy strokes, just as impactfully painterly and distinctly her singular vision, but evolved to an earned plane of delectable and delicate restraint. Untitled, 1989 is an exceptional example of Joan Mitchell’s lush and transcendent, late career painting, a more introverted reflective final act in the artist’s often outwardly intense career, informed in part by psychological changes brought on by her battle with cancer, blues pour on to the canvas, poignant and gorgeously raw. Some three decades after her initial expatriation to France, the late 1980s found Mitchell painting in the literal backyard and figurative footprints of one of her greatest influences, Claude Monet. It is no surprise that the gentler abstraction of Untitled, 1989 evokes the sacred spirts of Impressionism, embellishing its inherent Expressionism. Although relatively modest in scale at 24 x 19 ¾ inches, Untitled, 1989 is expansive in its created compositional space, giving the work a more dynamic presence than its size might suggest, judicially employed black, blue, green, white and yellow deftly arranged provide structure and establish this satisfying painted space. Swirling passages of broadly applied blue both anchor the work and swim through the picture plane, over shadowy streaks of black and billows of white, inviting the gaze to a deeper beyond from a lower right foreground that reads as the edge of a body of water to an active pale green shore or horizon in the distant upper left. Spectral washy whites whisp up the right and left sides, flanking stacks, elegantly framing the black, blue and green that dance across the surface like tidal pull, with a central flash of yellow, a splash of refracted light or a stray ray escaping from cloud coverage. The decisive marks made, fluidly vacillate in weight and gauge, further emphasizing the already pleasing depth of field and visual movement within. This work like many of Mitchell’s paintings shares identifiable creative space with Cy Twombly’s looping automatic symbiology, Jackson Pollock’s neurological network of dripped paint pathways and Claude Monet’s soft ethereal pond reflections, synthesizing all to become something daring and new with the added comfort of art historical familiarity.
Conceptionally these later works feel more emotionally connected than works completed as a younger artist, as Mitchell seeming becomes a participant in the unfolding forces of nature, contemplating and reacting to her place in the greater expanse of environment rather than an observer documenting the ensuing results. In a 1958 letter Mitchell said of her work “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 me with." 
This timeless approach remained constant throughout Mitchell’s career and is still on full display in Untitled,
1989, the essence of the external world internalized, interpreted and expressed in paint, conveying a deeper and harder felt meaning. In practice and in principle, gracing the painting’s viewer with the meaningful experience of feeling how the experienced experiences the elements.
Letter from Mitchell, in John I. H. Baur, Nature in Abstraction: The Relation of Abstract Painting and Sculpture to Nature in Twentieth-Century American Art (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1958), p. 75