Blog

Kenneth Tyler Remembers Joan Mitchell and “The Blueness of Blue”

Joan Mitchell and Kenneth Tyler discuss trial proofs of her Fields I etching, with numerous proofs of her prints on the walls, Tyler Graphics Ltd. artist's studio, Mount Kisco, New York, 1992. Photo by Marabeth COHEN-TYLER. 

Master printmaker Kenneth Tyler worked with Joan Mitchell on numerous print projects between 1981 and 1992. On the occasion of the exhibition Kenneth Tyler: The Art of Collaboration (Herron Galleries, IUPUI, September 19 - November 10, 2018), we offer an excerpt from Tyler's remembrance of Mitchell, entitled "The Blueness of Blue."

The title "Blueness of Blue" is not intended to suggest that Joan’s work was all about blue. Color and, in particular, the color blue was often discussed in great detail during my printmaking collaborations with Joan. I’m using blue as a metaphor for her thoughts about art. 

Her studies of Matisse, van Gogh, Cézanne, and Monet (although she denied being influenced by Monet on many occasions but mentioned his use of blue often) led to a mastery of color unparalleled by her contemporaries. I never worked with anyone since Albers that had such a keen knowledge of color and how colors interacted with each other. Joan’s works are about the colors in life as she observed and recorded them in paint, pastel, and ink.


Joan Mitchell uses a lithographic crayon on mylar to experiment with the composition of a color lithograph from her 'Livre de peintre' titled Poems, while Kenneth Tyler holds the work steady, Tyler Graphics Ltd. artist's studio, Mount Kisco, New York, 1992. Photo by Marabeth COHEN-TYLER. 

Mitchell made her first prints at Oxbow in Michigan in 1943 and for the next 38 years occasionally worked in lithography, etching, and screenprinting... I was most fortunate to have worked on printmaking projects with Joan [between 1981 and 1992] in my Bedford and Mount Kisco, New York workshops.... We had a lot in common: our midwest background and studies at the Art Institute of Chicago, and our many mutual art world friends and acquaintances. During the eleven years that I knew Joan, I visited her at her home and studio in Vétheuil and Paris, France. I am happy to say that our friendship was very rewarding and I learned a great deal about her life, her art, and her ideas about painting. What she practiced in painting as an "additive painter" she also practiced in printmaking.

I had the privilege of chauffeuring Joan at high speed in a wheelchair on a private tour of the Matisse Retrospective Exhibition at MoMA on October 16, 1992, stopping often at every painting she adored. It was the day after our family doctor in Mount Kisco diagnosed her as having terminal lung cancer. That day was a difficult one for her, but she managed to articulate on every picture of interest and singled out some with dominant blue passages, explaining the unique qualities that excited her. "Paul Cézanne said that 'Blue gives other colors their vibration,' and I think that blue is one of the most f—— beautiful colors." This sort of dialogue went on throughout our visit. Her understanding of art history and the craft of painting was formidable. For me this was a day to remember and I have often reflected on it.

Excerpted from Ken Tyler's essay, "Joan Mitchell: The Blueness of Blue."

Kenneth Tyler: The Art of Collaboration is on view at IUPUI's Herron Galleries through November 10, 2018.


Kenneth Tyler and Joan Mitchell with proofs of Mitchell's Fields, Trees, and Weeds works hanging in the background, Tyler Graphics Ltd. artist's studio, Mount Kisco, New York, 1991. Photo by Marabeth COHEN-TYLER. 

Kenneth Tyler and Henry McGee showing Joan Mitchell and poet Nathan Kernan pages from their 'Livre de Peintre' book titled Poems with book pages on the wall, Tyler Graphics Ltd. artist's studio, Mount Kisco, New York, 1992. Photo by Marabeth COHEN-TYLER.