Joan Mitchell by Patricia Albers
Lady Painter

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Synopsis

“Gee, Joan, if only you were French and male and dead.” —New York art dealer to Joan Mitchell, the 1950s

She was a steel heiress from the Midwest—Chicago and Lake Forest (her grandfather built Chicago’s bridges and worked for Andrew Carnegie). She was a daughter of the American Revolution—Anglo-Saxon, Republican, Episcopalian.

She was tough, disciplined, courageous, dazzling, and went up against the masculine art world at its most entrenched, made her way in it, and disproved their notion that women couldn’t paint.

Joan Mitchell
is the first full-scale biography of the abstract expressionist painter who came of age in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s; a portrait of an outrageous artist and her struggling artist world, painters making their way in the second part of America’s twentieth century.

As a young girl she was a champion figure skater, and though she lacked balance and coordination, accomplished one athletic triumph after another, until giving up competitive skating to become a painter.

Mitchell saw people and things in color; color and emotion were the same to her. She said, “I use the past to make my pic[tures] and I want all of it and even you and me in candlelight on the train and every ‘lover’ I’ve ever had—every friend—nothing closed out. It’s all part of me and I want to confront it and sleep with it—the dreams—and paint it.”

Her work had an unerring sense of formal rectitude, daring, and discipline, as well as delicacy, grace, and awkwardness.

Mitchell exuded a young, smoky, tough glamour and was thought of as “sexy as hell.”

Albers writes about how Mitchell married her girlhood pal, Barnet Rosset, Jr.—scion of a financier who was head of Chicago’s Metropolitan Trust and partner of Jimmy Roosevelt. Rosset went on to buy Grove Press in 1951, at Mitchell’s urging, and to publish Henry Miller, Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, et al., making Grove into the great avant-garde publishing house of its time.

Mitchell’s life was messy and reckless: in New York and East Hampton carousing with de Kooning, Frank O’Hara, James Schuyler, Jane Freilicher, Franz Kline, Helen Frankenthaler, and others; going to clambakes, cocktail parties, softball games—and living an entirely different existence in Paris and Vétheuil.

Mitchell’s inner life embraced a world beyond her own craft, especially literature . . . her compositions were informed by imagined landscapes or feelings about places.

In Joan Mitchell, Patricia Albers brilliantly reconstructs the painter’s large and impassioned life: her growing prominence as an artist; her marriage and affairs; her friendships with poets and painters; her extraordinary work.

Joan Mitchell
re-creates the times, the people, and her worlds from the 1920s through the 1990s and brings it all spectacularly to life.


From the Hardcover edition.
 

About Patricia Albers

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Patricia Albers is the author of Shadows, Fire, Snow: The Life of Tina Modotti. Her articles have appeared in newspapers, art journals, and museum catalogs. She has curated many exhibitions, among them Tina Modotti and the Mexican Renaissance. She lives in Mountain View, California.
 
Published May 3, 2011 by Knopf. 553 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Arts & Photography, Humor & Entertainment. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Joan Mitchell

Kirkus Reviews

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As Albers writes, Mitchell “refused to differentiate herself from male artists,” and “did not want to be considered among the forgotten or neglected.” A revealing portrait of a complex personality, this biography provides insight into the work of a master artist, but is perhaps too detailed to ...

May 05 2011 | Read Full Review of Joan Mitchell: Lady Painter

The Wall Street Journal

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Albers is plainly a thorough researcher, yet assertions that Mitchell's grandfather had "a clotted cream" complexion or that Mitchell "visibly flinched" when a paintbrush dripped seem questionable.

May 07 2011 | Read Full Review of Joan Mitchell: Lady Painter

Los Angeles Times

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Joan Mitchell didn't suffer fools.

Jun 12 2011 | Read Full Review of Joan Mitchell: Lady Painter

Bookmarks Magazine

a portrait of an outrageous artist and her struggling artist world, painters making their way in the second part of America’s twentieth century.

May 10 2011 | Read Full Review of Joan Mitchell: Lady Painter

The New Yorker

Online version of the weekly magazine, with current articles, cartoons, blogs, audio, video, slide shows, an archive of articles and abstracts back to 1925

Jul 25 2011 | Read Full Review of Joan Mitchell: Lady Painter

Chicago Sun Times

At age 12, Joan Mitchell decided to be a painter.

May 19 2011 | Read Full Review of Joan Mitchell: Lady Painter

The Akron Beacon Journal

If you have a chance during the next four weeks, drive to Youngstown to see Joan Mitchell (1925-92): The Last Decade.

Jul 07 2012 | Read Full Review of Joan Mitchell: Lady Painter

Reader Rating for Joan Mitchell
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