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Oral history interview with Joan Mitchell, April 16, 1986

The following oral history transcript is the result of a tape-recorded interview with Joan Mitchell on April 16, 1986. The interview took place at the Westbury Hotel in New York, and was conducted by Linda Nochlin for the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Person’s names are included each time mentioned in a new context. Descriptions of individual are largely JM’s. JM also referred to persons in the draft transcript she had not mentioned in the interview. These are indicated in this list by “[JM’s note].” Place names are mentioned only if they are somewhat unusual, and only the first time they occur.—Ed.

Interview

[Tape 1, side A]

LINDA NOCHLIN: Okay, Joan, we’re going to start at the beginning; we are supposed to. And I’m just going to halt this tape to make sure that it is actually doing its. . . .
[Interruption in taping]

LINDA NOCHLIN: . . . _____, they’re plastic.

JOAN MITCHELL: _____.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yes, that’s _____, perfect. Okay, we’re going to start at the beginning and I’d like to just find out something about your background, your family, you know, sort of where you come from, who your parents were, even your grandparents, that far back.

JOAN MITCHELL: Chicago.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah.

JOAN MITCHELL: Oh, let me see. My father’s parents died when he was very young, I think four and six, so he was brought up by an older sister. And he was self-made, worked in a pharmacy, put himself through the University of Chicago, Rush Medical School, and married my money, my mother when he was 40. . . . My money. . . ? [referring to slip of the tongue—Ed.]

LINDA NOCHLIN: (laughs) Yes.

JOAN MITCHELL: Forty-something and had two children. He [James Herbert Mitchell—Ed.] was good in fungus diseases, very good in jungle rot during the war [World War II], well-known, president of American Dermatological—whatever it is—Society.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right.

JOAN MITCHELL: Skin and so forth [dermatology and syphillology—“skin and syph” as I called it].

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right. And something about your mother? Her name was Marion Stobel, was that it?

JOAN MITCHELL: Strobel, S-t-r-o-b-e-l. Her father, Charles Louis Strobel, I think was from Cincinnati. His family, I don’t know how immediate, from Germany. I think they made toys in Germany. He was a steel engineer, built bridges over the Chicago River. I have all his. . . . He went to [Stuttgart] Germany to study engineering. I have all of his, oh, schoolbooks [notebooks] with these fabulous drawings of steel engineering bridges. . . .

LINDA NOCHLIN: So he was into, yeah, I see.

JOAN MITCHELL: . . . all in German, just fabulous. And his diaries, and he talks about Bugatti [French car maker—Ed.], and I think he thought Frick was—no, was it Carnegie?—was a bit dishonest.

LINDA NOCHLIN: (laughs) He had a social conscience.

JOAN MITCHELL: And his diaries, with all the highly detailed bills from such and such a hotel in Paris or England or. . . .

LINDA NOCHLIN: Oh, he sounds wonderful.

JOAN MITCHELL: Oh yes. He never spoke. He liked me; I didn’t speak either.

LINDA NOCHLIN: So you really got to know him, in other words.

JOAN MITCHELL: Oh, not at all. He would arrive on [Sundays]. He died in 1935, I think.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah, but I mean as a child might.

JOAN MITCHELL: No.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Oh, no?

JOAN MITCHELL: He wore spats and a cane and morning coats, and he was very shy, I guess. Oh, no. He sat and I sat.

LINDA NOCHLIN: You didn’t talk?

JOAN MITCHELL: No, I mean, children were seen and not heard.

LINDA NOCHLIN: In your family it was like that, I mean that. . . .

JOAN MITCHELL: Well, around him.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah, yeah. As far as he was concerned. Well, that sounds like. . . . I mean, I never knew that; that’s interesting background. I mean, this person who drew, for example.

JOAN MITCHELL: My father drew.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Your father drew, too?

JOAN MITCHELL: Oh, yeah, well, sort of a little like Lautrec [Toulouse-Lautrec—Ed.].

LINDA NOCHLIN: Really.

JOAN MITCHELL: Um hmm.

LINDA NOCHLIN: You mean, as a kind of amateur pastime?

JOAN MITCHELL: Yeah, he’d do sketches of his peers, doctors, [heads], _____ caricature, a bit.

LINDA NOCHLIN: That’s interesting. And your mother I understand was a poet.

JOAN MITCHELL: Um hmm.

LINDA NOCHLIN: I mean, you have said that before. How did she work? I mean, did she publish professionally or _____ _____?

JOAN MITCHELL: Yeah, she had books. [She published poetry books, novels, and mystery stories]. She worked with Harriet Monroe on Poetry magazine [Chicago].

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right, um hmm. So she was involved in really avant garde poetry?

JOAN MITCHELL: Oh, no. She was more of a lyric poet.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah. Well, that was in _____ _____.

JOAN MITCHELL: Well, I mean Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot and all those. They were published first by Poetry magazine.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right.

JOAN MITCHELL: But I think she liked lyric poetry such as Eliot more than Pound.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right.

JOAN MITCHELL: When you say avant garde, I don’t think. . . .

LINDA NOCHLIN: No, no. Would it be more like Edna St. Vincent Millay?

JOAN MITCHELL: Yeah. Edna, she knew her.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah, right. So did you meet any of these people, through your mother?

JOAN MITCHELL: [Yeah. No.]

LINDA NOCHLIN: And you must have heard about poetry from birth.

JOAN MITCHELL: Oh, yes. Well, Thornton Wilder used to read to me as a child. Yes, it was quite. . . .

LINDA NOCHLIN: So you came from a background where. . . .

JOAN MITCHELL: There were books in the house.

LINDA NOCHLIN: . . . there were books and a real interest in literature.

JOAN MITCHELL: Either skin diseases or literature.

LINDA NOCHLIN: (laughs) One or the other?

JOAN MITCHELL: No, there certainly was. And, you know, father took us [my sister and me] to the [Chicago—Ed.] Art Institute to look at. . . . Or to the Field Museum in Chicago. It was, you know, [on Sunday mornings]. . . .

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right. It was a cultivated house.

JOAN MITCHELL: Um hmm.

LINDA NOCHLIN: And you were the only child?

JOAN MITCHELL: No. Sally.

LINDA NOCHLIN: _____ had a. . . . That’s right, you have a[n older] sister, right.

JOAN MITCHELL: Who died a couple years ago.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right, I remember. Right. And you have a niece, _____ ? [And two nephews.]

JOAN MITCHELL: Yeah. She came here.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah, yeah. Charming. That’s [a, the most] darling person. Where were you educated? What was your earlier education?

JOAN MITCHELL: I went for twelve years to the Francis W. Parker School [in Chicago].

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right.

JOAN MITCHELL: And my sister went to Girl’s Latin [where Nancy Davis Reagan went].

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah.

JOAN MITCHELL: Quite different.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Why were they different?

JOAN MITCHELL: Oh, Girl’s Latin was sort of a correct whatever, and Parker was full of Jews and. . . . [Chicago was very racist and still is.]

LINDA NOCHLIN: Was it more progressive?

JOAN MITCHELL: Very progressive [and very wonderful].

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yes, I somehow remember, yes.

JOAN MITCHELL: Very bright kids and not conventional at that time.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right.

JOAN MITCHELL: It’s become much more so. Great education.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Did you learn classical subjects, or was the emphasis on art and literature and _____?

JOAN MITCHELL: Well, there was a. . . . My class was the last, I think, of an eight-year program, or maybe Bobby Adams [Robert McCormick Adams—Ed.]. He is the head of Smithsonian, and _____ his class, [‘43] at Parker.

LINDA NOCHLIN: (laughs) Oh, ho. Yes.

JOAN MITCHELL: I was talking with Sue Ann [Kendall—Ed.] about that.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah, right.

JOAN MITCHELL: Where we didn’t have to take college boards and all that sort of thing, and we could just get into college.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Hmm, you mean, without doing any of the normal sorts of stuff?

JOAN MITCHELL: Yeah. Well, then they changed it to Scholastic Aptitude [tests]. We did take that, but I didn’t have any math, for example.

LINDA NOCHLIN: (laughs) Lucky you.

JOAN MITCHELL: And I had a lot of Latin. I mean, very lopsided kind of education.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah. Right.

JOAN MITCHELL: Other people had only math.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right. It was what you were interested in, sort of.

JOAN MITCHELL: Sort of.

LINDA NOCHLIN: That sounds great. And where did you go to. . . . You also went to high school there?

JOAN MITCHELL: Yeah, twelve years.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right, I see, twelve years.

JOAN MITCHELL: It’s a grammar and high school.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah, I see. And then you went on, from ‘42 to ‘44, I understand, to Smith.

JOAN MITCHELL: Yeah.

LINDA NOCHLIN: How was that? I mean, what was that like?

JOAN MITCHELL: Well, father said I was too young to go to art school and _____, so I applied to—it was Bryn Mawr, Bennington, and Smith. I wanted to go to Bennington, but he said that was too arty, you wouldn’t learn anything. And Bryn Mawr I had seen, and I thought that was death warmed over. (laughter)

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yes.

JOAN MITCHELL: So, since I’d never seen Smith and it was the biggest, I thought Smith. There were 2,000 women. However, it was during the war, and so Smith had Waves in it, you know. . .

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right.

JOAN MITCHELL: . . . and Amherst had all the Navy and [language] groups.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right.

JOAN MITCHELL: And it had totally. . . . It was very, very much more mixed than it is now, [I suppose], an Ivy League atmosphere that. . . .

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah, sure, I remember Vassar was during World War II, too. Opened up, yeah.

JOAN MITCHELL: Sure. It was kind of a mixed bag.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Is there anything particularly about Smith? I mean, anything important that you think took place there that might be relevant to your later career?

JOAN MITCHELL: Well, I got a B+ in art.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Well, that’s something. (chuckles) Who taught art history there?

JOAN MITCHELL: A man called Hyman George Cohen.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Never heard of him, but. . . .

JOAN MITCHELL: And I don’t think. . . . I don’t know. The art department wasn’t very good, the art history [was taught by Mrs. _____ Vanderbilt.]. . . .

LINDA NOCHLIN: Did you do painting?

JOAN MITCHELL: There’s a nice little museum there. [A lovely Goya.]

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yes.

JOAN MITCHELL: Did I paint there? Sure.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah. I mean, did you study with anyone that you felt was interested. . . .

JOAN MITCHELL: There was Hyman George Cohen. I did watercolors out under the apple trees. [Tamayo came and did a fresco in the art library. I watched.]

LINDA NOCHLIN: I see. Well, that is something or other. What about the art collection there? I mean. . . .

JOAN MITCHELL: It was all right. It’s nice. Nice _____ and. . . .

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah, it’s a nice little museum. Right. Then you came back in ‘44 to ‘47 and went to the Art Institute, or was there something between?

JOAN MITCHELL: Well then, the summer at Smith, that summer I went to the summer school of the Chicago Art Institute.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right.

JOAN MITCHELL: In Saugatuck, Michigan. I went there two summers [‘43 and ‘44].

LINDA NOCHLIN: Uh huh, I see.

JOAN MITCHELL: So I got some credit there and I went into the Art Institute as a second-year student.

LINDA NOCHLIN: I see, I see. What was the normal course at the Art Institute? Was it four years?

JOAN MITCHELL: Four years.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah, but you went in. . . .

JOAN MITCHELL: I did it in three years, but I also went at night.

LINDA NOCHLIN: I see. And in summers.

JOAN MITCHELL: And those two summers, which was really nice because the nude was outdoors [mornings].

LINDA NOCHLIN: Oh, how wonderful.

JOAN MITCHELL: It was really Frenchy.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Gee, that’s great!

JOAN MITCHELL: And then the afternoon class in landscape was outdoors, and nobody was around the Oxbow, an Indian site on Lake Michigan.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah, and beautiful, I’d say.

JOAN MITCHELL: Very nice. [Heavenly place—it still exists. Lithography at night. No electricity. Kerosene oil lamps.]

LINDA NOCHLIN: Who were your teachers at the Art Institute?

JOAN MITCHELL: You wouldn’t know them.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Well, it doesn’t matter; it’s just for the record.

JOAN MITCHELL: Louis Ritman.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Louis Ritman?

JOAN MITCHELL: Yeah, he came from Russia, lived in France [even Giverny].

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right.

JOAN MITCHELL: I have friends there, cousins, grand-whatever, of the Hoschede family?

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right.

JOAN MITCHELL: In Giverny, and in their basement—in their attic [correcting from basement to attic—Ed.]—they had a lot of Impressionists who lived around there when Monet lived there.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Sure.

JOAN MITCHELL: And they pulled out this painting and I recognized the way the hands were drawn and I said, “Who?” And it was a Louis Ritman.

LINDA NOCHLIN: He had been out there, Giverny. He lived there.

JOAN MITCHELL: He lived in France for a while and then he went to Chicago.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Fascinating.

JOAN MITCHELL: And he _____. And I refused to draw hands the way he did.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Probably the root of your success! (laughs)

JOAN MITCHELL: That’s right.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Any other teachers that you particularly remember?

JOAN MITCHELL: Oh, I remember all of them, but they’re not. . . . Von Neuman, he was a German with a wooden leg that he lost in the First World War [seven years in the army]. He was a wonderful man. His etching, sort of like—a la Durer, some of that _____. Not avant garde at all, you know.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Boy, yeah.

JOAN MITCHELL: But he was very inspiring. I don’t think good teachers are necessarily good artists.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Not all, yes.

JOAN MITCHELL: Max Kahn, but I didn’t study with him, lithography. George Buehr, I didn’t study with. Boris Anisfeld, I didn’t study with.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Did you feel the whole atmosphere was conducive, I mean to. . . .

JOAN MITCHELL: To what?

LINDA NOCHLIN: You know, to your. . . .

JOAN MITCHELL: I did six hours of life drawing a day and three hours of life painting. And on the weekends I did my own still lifes and landscapes or whatever at home.

LINDA NOCHLIN: So you just painted away.

JOAN MITCHELL: Yeah.

LINDA NOCHLIN: And worked all the time.

JOAN MITCHELL: But it was very classic education, and I was trying to win a fellowship, traveling fellowship, which I did. And so there were certain requirements like anatomy, art history, and all that.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right. So you had a full classical training, would you say?

JOAN MITCHELL: That and then I was minus some art history credits which I picked up at Columbia and NYU here in New York [to get an MFA].

LINDA NOCHLIN: So were there any fellow students that were particularly interesting or that you remember, that you felt had something?

JOAN MITCHELL: Sure, Ellen Lanyon. She lives here [New York]. Leon Golub, but he was younger—or behind me. Nancy Borregaard, she lives in France [near Moulins].

LINDA NOCHLIN: Oh right, I remember. I met her. She had poached eggs. (chuckles)

JOAN MITCHELL: Really?

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah. We all went out and. . . .

JOAN MITCHELL: And Zuka and all that?

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah, right.

JOAN MITCHELL: Zuka _____ sort of. [Painter who lives in Paris, shows at Dorthea Speier Gallery, and had shown at Betty Parsons.]

LINDA NOCHLIN: At the summer school.

JOAN MITCHELL: The first summer. She came with a painter called Dan Lutz, who died. He taught in L.A. [remembering:] Art Institute. Katharine Kuh. (chuckles)

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right. Did she teach there?

JOAN MITCHELL: Oh, no. She was. . . .

LINDA NOCHLIN: No. She was a critic, though.

JOAN MITCHELL: She was a curator, too. I’ve lost touch. [I just had lunch with her. She’s a wonderful person. She had a gallery of “modern art” in Chicago. Has written books and was curator of the Art Institute. I was terrified of her and admired her immensely. I still do.] Herbie Katzman [a painter] I haven’t seen in years.

LINDA NOCHLIN: But all in all, you found it a stimulating environment? Or just, you wanted to work so much that it would have been stimulating anywhere?

JOAN MITCHELL: I think it’s anywhere. I mean, if you’re working from the nude.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah, right.

JOAN MITCHELL: What was stimulating was the Art Institute—you just walk up the stairs and take a look at a good painting.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right. And what were some of the ones that you would most remember from those years as being ones that you’d want to look at?

JOAN MITCHELL: All of them.

LINDA NOCHLIN: All of them.

JOAN MITCHELL: Van Gogh, the Manet, that lovely fish that I saw again in Paris [in ‘82]. My goodness. All of them.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Okay. That was the real inspiration, in a way.

JOAN MITCHELL: The painting, the French painting?

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah. It was mostly the French that you looked toward.

JOAN MITCHELL: Yeah.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Nineteen and twentieth.

JOAN MITCHELL: Well, that was their best. . . .

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah, that’s what they are best [in].

JOAN MITCHELL: Yeah.

LINDA NOCHLIN: But what you would be most. . . .

JOAN MITCHELL: They had a lot of Chester Dale, a hunk of that collection then, during the war, Picasso and so on.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right.

JOAN MITCHELL: The Guernica was first shown there, in the back stairs, in 1938.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Really! I always thought of it in connection with the Museum of Modern Art, but it was there first.

JOAN MITCHELL: From _____. I think so. Well, I know it was there. But I think it was shown there before it moved to a whole Picasso show and that was fabulous. And there was painting to look at, you know.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah. It was a very good painting atmosphere.

JOAN MITCHELL: There was the Arts Club. . . .

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right. What’s the Arts Club?

JOAN MITCHELL: . . . which was a fancy society thing then.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yes.

JOAN MITCHELL: But with [good] shows [like Brancusi, Braque]. It exists today, the interior done by Mies van der Rohe. I have had a show there once. They put up. . . .

LINDA NOCHLIN: When did you have that show?

JOAN MITCHELL: I don’t remember.

LINDA NOCHLIN: But early, you mean, in your career? [early seventies, I think?]

JOAN MITCHELL: No. I was _____. . . . I don’t know. ___ pre _____.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Oh, okay.

JOAN MITCHELL: But they had Brancusi. . . . I would go there as an art student _____ any kind of _____. But there was art there. There were no galleries, one gallery, as I remember. Fairweather Hardin. There was not yet the gallery scene.

LINDA NOCHLIN: The gallery scene.

JOAN MITCHELL: That there is in Chicago now.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right. Then what happened? You won the prize?

JOAN MITCHELL: Yes.

LINDA NOCHLIN: What was the prize? What was it called specifically?

JOAN MITCHELL: There were three traveling fellowships. I won the Ryerson Traveling Fellowship.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right.

JOAN MITCHELL: Which as I remember was $2,000. You were supposed to live a year on that.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Well, in those days. . . . (laughter)

JOAN MITCHELL: I did, _____.

LINDA NOCHLIN: I bet you did. Yes.

JOAN MITCHELL: And I came [to New York—Ed.]. . . . It was just after the war and I thought it was a little early to get over there.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yes.

JOAN MITCHELL: So I spent the winter under the Brooklyn Bridge, on the Brooklyn side, living with Barney Rosset, and I came here [to New York] to study with Hofmann, this is all.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right.

JOAN MITCHELL: And I went to Hofmann’s class and I couldn’t understand a word he said so I left, terrified.

LINDA NOCHLIN: (laughs)

JOAN MITCHELL: But he and I became friends later on. Friends, but I never studied with him.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Now when was this, in what?

JOAN MITCHELL: ‘47. And then the spring of ‘48 I toddled off to Paris on a Liberty ship.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Oh yeah, in those bunks?

JOAN MITCHELL: Yeah, those bunks. The painted, repainted floors, green, and so the green paint came off on my feet, I remember. And I ended up sleeping on deck, in sort of a tool shed up there, with some other people because it was impossible [down below].

LINDA NOCHLIN: It was horrible. I went over in one of those.

JOAN MITCHELL: With the saltwater? And some sort of soap they gave you for the saltwater?

LINDA NOCHLIN: The smell, just when you went down below was. . . .

JOAN MITCHELL: Oh, the crew, they were very nice. [I had fun.]

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah. Everyone was very nice. It was the. . . .

JOAN MITCHELL: Gave me booze _____. Although I don’t get seasick, so that wasn’t any problem. Took a long time to go across. Ten days.

LINDA NOCHLIN: And you arrived where? [Le Havre]

JOAN MITCHELL: Oh, then, those other two summers at school, I spent in Mexico, instead of going back to Saugatuck.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right.

JOAN MITCHELL: Not with _____, though.

LINDA NOCHLIN: That was in the later forties.

JOAN MITCHELL: Oh, forty. . . . What would it be? ‘45 and ‘46.

LINDA NOCHLIN: ‘45 and ‘46. Yeah.

JOAN MITCHELL: Yeah. [Weetucka, We took a].

LINDA NOCHLIN: You went to Mexico?

JOAN MITCHELL: Yeah, those two summers.

LINDA NOCHLIN: And how was that? Did you study there with someone?

JOAN MITCHELL: No, no, I painted all the time, in Guanajuato.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Where were you?

JOAN MITCHELL: Guanajuato, G-u-a-n-a-j-u-a-t-o. I met Orozco and I met Siqueiros [in Mexico City]. It was very moving. I mean, it was the first foreign country I’d ever been to [other than Canada]. You know. I was thinking of it because when I arrived in France I kept thinking, “Why isn’t it Mexico?” I had been in love in, with Mexico, you know.

LINDA NOCHLIN: And it’s so romantic, I think, Mexico as a country.

JOAN MITCHELL: Yes, and arriving in Le Havre on that Liberty ship and seeing all those—the sun was coming up—and seeing all those ships sunk.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah, it was nasty.

JOAN MITCHELL: It was hardly. . . .

LINDA NOCHLIN: Horrible.

JOAN MITCHELL: I mean, war, war, war, war.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Well, you went very early. I know because I went to England that year and it was the same. Devastating.

JOAN MITCHELL: Yes, dark red and. . . .

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yes. Whale sausage was. . . .

JOAN MITCHELL: . . . everything rationed, and the poor people, that wasn’t exactly. . . . I mean, we didn’t suffer [like that], _____.

LINDA NOCHLIN: So where did you go? You went to Paris.

JOAN MITCHELL: I went to Paris, and I stayed with Zuka and Louis [Mitelberg] [her husband, the cartoonist “Tim”]. And I looked for a place—and found it on Rue Gallande. Across the river was Notre Dame. That was all of four dollars a month, with a hole on the stairs as a toilet and a spigot with cold water and one lightbulb. That was all the electricity there was. [No heat, no coal.] But this view, I mean, God! (laughs)

LINDA NOCHLIN: It must have been extraordinary.

JOAN MITCHELL: Yes. With. . . .

LINDA NOCHLIN: The most perfect view, I mean.

JOAN MITCHELL: Sure! Saint Julien le Pauvre [Greek Orthodox Church, oldest in Paris] was right in front of me, the _____. And so I painted there.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah.

JOAN MITCHELL: And then I really. . . . I didn’t have any heat and I got pretty sick. So at the American hospital, while I was hacking away, coughing, they said, “Well, you know, I think you better go south for the winter.” (laughs)

LINDA NOCHLIN: That’s good advice, yeah.

JOAN MITCHELL: So Barney came with me, and he had the. . . . You know her, Joan Simon?

LINDA NOCHLIN: Sure.

JOAN MITCHELL: Joan Lewisohn Simon [Crowell]. [Fabulous collection was given to the Metropolitan Museum of Art by her father. I think she now composes.] Well, she and Sidney [Simon, painter] had rented a house in LeLavandou for all of $75 a year. Wonderful house. And she was having a baby, so she gave us the house, and we went down there. I remember we rented it. And it was so cheap because the woman owner had been a collaborator. That was strange. So I spent a year there.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Painting.

JOAN MITCHELL: Painting, yeah.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right, yeah. It’s a beautiful area.

JOAN MITCHELL: Well, it was then. It’s horrible now, all built up.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Horrible, yeah. I remember.

JOAN MITCHELL: But the house _____. [microphone noise] Well, it was lonely. I mean, people visited us. It was. . . .

LINDA NOCHLIN: What was your style like then? Can you describe what kind of work you were doing back then?

JOAN MITCHELL: Well, it was Cezanne-ish in school. Moving Cubistically, whatever you would call it, into abstraction. Sort of cubed-up landscapes, things like that.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right, right.

JOAN MITCHELL: And it got more and more so, and into. . . . Well, I know what it was, but I don’t think you would. Well, maybe.

LINDA NOCHLIN: No, I can see. It was moving out of Cezanne into some. . . .

JOAN MITCHELL: More Cezanne. Like his watercolors into more. . . . Yeah.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah. Late stuff.

JOAN MITCHELL: Yeah.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Were there any artists that were painting at the time that you felt were going in your direction, or that interested you, or that were relevant to what you were looking for in your own?

JOAN MITCHELL: Gorky, a little bit. I didn’t know him very well then, and I had seen a Matta show at Pierre Matisse [1947?]. I was here that winter, don’t forget. [Kandinsky of course and even Hartung.]

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah, right, and so what had gone on?

JOAN MITCHELL: And so Jackson Pollock I knew of [Art of This Century].

LINDA NOCHLIN: You got. . . . Yeah. I mean, had you seen his work?

JOAN MITCHELL: [I didn’t like it.] I saw one show and I’m trying to. . . . That would have to be checked on.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah.

JOAN MITCHELL: At Twentieth Century. I think it was the first show he had _____. Would that be in ‘49 or in. . . . [1947]
[Interruption in taping]

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah. No, I was just interested in who you, you know, who struck you in that period in New York?

JOAN MITCHELL: [away from microphone:] Oh, early Kandinsky, [that crowd]. Well no, they had that at the Art Institute in Chicago, don’t forget.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right, right.

JOAN MITCHELL: See, everybody, to do modern art then, seemed to me, when you were going “modern” (both chuckle), it was Picasso. I mean, everybody. But I avoided that like the plague. I thought. . . . I loved Picasso, but it just wasn’t for me.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right. So who would you say was for you, you know.

JOAN MITCHELL: Well, I don’t, I have some of those paintings from LeLavandou—they’re in storage—and from Mexico. They were Expressionist landscapes, or boats on the beach or something like that, which I still do. Sort of going abstract, going towards. . . .

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah, late, say, like. . . .

JOAN MITCHELL: But [I do] what I do.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right.

JOAN MITCHELL: My first show at the New Gallery.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Okay, so you lived in Europe on this traveling fellowship from ‘48 to ‘49.

JOAN MITCHELL: Um hmm.

LINDA NOCHLIN: A lot of it in Le Lavandou, and then you came back in 1950?

JOAN MITCHELL: Well, then I got married.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Oh, you got married?

JOAN MITCHELL: In Le Lavandou because I ran out of money, and Barney said he wouldn’t take me home. . . .

LINDA NOCHLIN: Unless you married him?

JOAN MITCHELL: Unless I married him.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Well, that was a good bargain.

JOAN MITCHELL: So we married and the mayor cried “Vive, Chicago.” Barney was from the Francis W. Parker School, too.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Oh. Had you known him at Francis Parker?

JOAN MITCHELL: Yeah, and we. . . .

LINDA NOCHLIN: Oh, so it was a childhood. . . .

JOAN MITCHELL: No, then he went off to the wars [China, India]. I mean, he was older than I was.

LINDA NOCHLIN: I see.

JOAN MITCHELL: Yes, I’d gone out with him. He took me to Citizen Kane in high school. He was very intelligent, you know, as all the intellectual kids.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah, absolutely. Oops, okay. Now wait a minute; I’ve got to turn this over.

[Tape 1, side B]

LINDA NOCHLIN: . . . is now the second side of the first tape in which Linda Nochlin is interviewing Joan Mitchell, on April 16, 1986, at the Westbury Hotel. So you got married. Did that make a difference?

JOAN MITCHELL: Well, yeah, I didn’t want to. I think I would have stayed on with him. Then I didn’t want to get divorced. That whole thing was sort of _____ to this.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah.

JOAN MITCHELL: Then we went back [to the U.S.] with all my French stretchers. We left Cannes, boated around Spain, you know, back to New York.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah.

JOAN MITCHELL: And we played chess all the way. And that, we were in first class. That was a. . . . God! The food. It made me sick, because everything [in France] had been rationed, you know, and they had. . . . (laughs)

LINDA NOCHLIN: And you finally got goodies! Yeah.

JOAN MITCHELL: With butter and, oh, I got so sick.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Okay, so we’re up to the. . . .

JOAN MITCHELL: We’re going to New York. We’re arriving in New York.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right.

JOAN MITCHELL: Well, then [the Chelsea Hotel] and then Eleventh Street, and then. . . .

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah.

JOAN MITCHELL: And then Barney gets hayfever, and so we took off [midsummer] for [Haiti] Cuba, actually. Sounds funny now, doesn’t it?

LINDA NOCHLIN: Oh, that’s where, my father used to go to Cuba all the time.

JOAN MITCHELL: Well, his father knew Battista, so we were [put up] in [one of his lovely hotels]. [Can you imagine?]

LINDA NOCHLIN: Oh. How romantic, yes.

JOAN MITCHELL: And then there was a hurricane, so we flew to Yucatan, which was wonderful.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Ah, how marvelous, yeah.

JOAN MITCHELL: And of course I had this passionate feeling about Mexico. And then I saw Chichen Itza and all that stuff. That was lovely. Oh, no, wait a minute. We went to Haiti first. That was a big deal, because Magloire was in [power] instead of Papa Doc.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right, right.

JOAN MITCHELL: Barney had something to do with the four-point program, the Marshall Plan in the U.N., and so we were looking at yaws [a venereal disease] and films and. . . . It was a very interesting, and now I’m very involved with Haiti again. I mean, interested to see. . . .

LINDA NOCHLIN: What’s going to happen.

JOAN MITCHELL: Um hmm. So anyway then, Campeche [Mexican state], you know. . . . This has something to do with painting. He wanted to go on to Mexico City, and I just said to hell with it. So I went back to New York, and we had to be moved. So I moved us from Eleventh Street to Ninth Street, with the help of Paul Brach, Michael Goldberg, and a couple of other people.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right.

JOAN MITCHELL: In the meantime, I had moved back and I had walked into Hayter’s Eighth Street, you know, Stanley William Hayter? [Graphic studio, etchings. Wonderful man.]

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right. Yeah. Sure.

JOAN MITCHELL: Wonderful. And he wasn’t there, but Paul Brach was there [with wife]. I had met them. They came from Iowa [University]. They looked me up. Oh, from another man, Dick [Richard] Bowman, my first lover, in Saugatuck.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah.

JOAN MITCHELL: They had studied with Lasansky there. This is all midwest, you know.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right, right, in Iowa.

JOAN MITCHELL: And they looked me up, and Paul was at Hayter’s, so I thought if I went to Hayter’s or hung around there. . . . I was starved for painters.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right. Yeah.

JOAN MITCHELL: Barney was with film people and in Le Lavandou there were no painters. I was really starved to get back into a painting situation.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Sure.

JOAN MITCHELL: And that’s where I met Mike and so on.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Mike Goldberg.

JOAN MITCHELL: Yeah.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right. This is for the record. (laughs) Many a _____.

JOAN MITCHELL: Well, he helped me move to Ninth Street, which was fine.

LINDA NOCHLIN: I see.

JOAN MITCHELL: As well as many other things. And the first studio I went to. . . . I was trying to find deKooning because he had a painting at the Whitney, which was in the old Studio School [Eighth Street], you know.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah, the old. . . .

JOAN MITCHELL: And I thought I would like to know him. I really dug his painting, and I dug Gorky’s painting—because you asked me.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah, who the people are, right.

JOAN MITCHELL: But the first studio I went into was Franz Kline.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Uh huh!

JOAN MITCHELL: I was interviewed about him yesterday, by Harry Gaugh? That man who wrote the big Kline book? Right up there. See it?

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yes. [Finding book—Ed.] Harry Gaugh, I guess. Yes. Right.

JOAN MITCHELL: Anyway, and there were all these Klines, unstretched, hanging on the brick walls. Beautiful. You know, with the telephone book drawings all over the floor, and Kline yakking away, and it was just, I was out of my mind!

LINDA NOCHLIN: I bet.

JOAN MITCHELL: I mean, just uhh!

LINDA NOCHLIN: Exciting!

JOAN MITCHELL: And so from then on I got involved in the Artists Club. They allowed very few women in, and I was included for $35 a year. And I got very involved in the Cedar Bar and the whole thing.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right.

JOAN MITCHELL: And of course less involved with Barney.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yes, that seems to follow. Now it says here, on this outline, that you went to Columbia at some time? Attended Columbia University?

JOAN MITCHELL: Well, that was then, because I wanted to get my MFA [Summer 1951].

LINDA NOCHLIN: I see.

JOAN MITCHELL: I said earlier I did art history at Columbia and NYU?

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah, right.

JOAN MITCHELL: That was to get a master of fine arts.

LINDA NOCHLIN: MFA from the Art Institute of Chicago.

JOAN MITCHELL: The Art Institute, in order to teach.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Who did you take art history from at Columbia? Do you know? _____?

JOAN MITCHELL: [Professor] Smith.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Smith?

JOAN MITCHELL: Northern Renaissance.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Okay.

JOAN MITCHELL: There’s a little spot. It was sort of interesting.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Great. And it says here too that in 1950 you had your first solo show in St. Paul, Minnesota.

JOAN MITCHELL: Well, I guess I did.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah? What did you show? Do you remember that as a significant moment?

JOAN MITCHELL: Paintings from. . . .

LINDA NOCHLIN: From Le Lavandou, those, right. Did you get reviewed?

JOAN MITCHELL: Yeah. But I _____.

LINDA NOCHLIN: I mean, where was it in St. Paul?

JOAN MITCHELL: I don’t know. [The St. Paul Gallery.]

LINDA NOCHLIN: (laughs) So. I mean, why St. Paul, when you were from Chicago? What was the connection _____ there? [The Midwest. People from the Art Institute.]

JOAN MITCHELL: I have a blank about that.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Okay.

JOAN MITCHELL: No, seriously, I’m not even sure I went to see it.

LINDA NOCHLIN: _____. Well, I mean I just have it on this vita that’s printed.

JOAN MITCHELL: I did it. Yeah, yeah.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Well, that’s terrific. Okay. Then you’ve got your master’s and you’re now painting in a studio in St. Mark’s Place?

JOAN MITCHELL: Well, then there was a little. . . . Then I moved around to Tenth Street. We [Barney and I] lived on Ninth Street in. . . .

LINDA NOCHLIN: Now who is “we” now?

JOAN MITCHELL: I said “I.”

LINDA NOCHLIN: Oh, okay.

JOAN MITCHELL: I.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yes.

JOAN MITCHELL: Moved into a studio that was vacated [on Tenth, Spring 1951].

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right.

JOAN MITCHELL: [Whispers something, then:—Ed.] That was a coal stove, a bare place, and then Guston lived above me. But I knew him when I lived in Paris.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right. And this is in 1950?

JOAN MITCHELL: No, it’s ‘51.

LINDA NOCHLIN: ‘51, okay.

JOAN MITCHELL: Well, when’s my first show? ‘52? February of ‘52.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Your first show, according to this. . . .

JOAN MITCHELL: The New Gallery. [The Stable Gallery.]

LINDA NOCHLIN: . . . your first show in New York is right after ‘51, but then we jump to ‘55, so I mean, it could be ‘52.

JOAN MITCHELL: Oh, I think it’s February ‘52.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Okay, February ‘52.

JOAN MITCHELL: And the Ninth Street show was. . . .

LINDA NOCHLIN: You participated in a Ninth Street show.

JOAN MITCHELL: Yeah, that was ‘51. [Spring.]

LINDA NOCHLIN: In ‘51.

JOAN MITCHELL: Yeah, that’s right.

LINDA NOCHLIN: And that was organized by charter members of the club with the help of Leo Castelli.

JOAN MITCHELL: Leo.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right? And who else participated in that Ninth Street show? Everyone _____?

JOAN MITCHELL: Well, about forty people.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Forty people, okay.

JOAN MITCHELL: As I remember. I haven’t any written things _____ _____.

LINDA NOCHLIN: You said there were very few women included in that group [the Artists Club]. Who were some of the other women of those few women? Were there any others?

JOAN MITCHELL: Elaine [de Kooning].

LINDA NOCHLIN: Elaine.

JOAN MITCHELL: Mercedes Matter.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Mercedes Matter.

JOAN MITCHELL: Well, May Rosenberg, but she wasn’t a painter.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yes.

JOAN MITCHELL: Isn’t a painter. Jane Freilicher. Nell Blaine. . . . Nell Blaine didn’t come [to club]. [The Ninth Street show had several women and artists’ wives: Helen Frankenthaler, Grace Hartigan, Lee Krasner. [knock at the door—Ed.] Come in.
[Interruption in taping]

LINDA NOCHLIN: Okay. Now I was just asking about who some of the other women were and whether you were. . . . I mean, I don’t want to read any proto-feminism into any of this, but I mean, were you. . . .

JOAN MITCHELL: Proto? Well, you can say it, I think, for _____ _____.

LINDA NOCHLIN: That’s fine! It’s you that’s saying. Okay. No, I just wondered if you had any particular feelings about being one of the rare women included in this group?

JOAN MITCHELL: Well, there were Grace [Hartigan] and Helen [Frankenthaler], of course.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah.

JOAN MITCHELL: How did I feel, like how? I felt, you know, when I was discouraged I wondered if really women couldn’t paint, the way all the men said they [the women] couldn’t paint. But then at other times I said, “Fuck them,” you know.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right.

JOAN MITCHELL: But I think the women were, some of them, more down on women than the men.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah, that’s perfectly possible.

JOAN MITCHELL: [A lot, Like], you know.

LINDA NOCHLIN: But I just wondered whether the generally nonsupportive atmosphere for women artists, whether it’s by fellow women, or by men, or by a general atmosphere, or what?

JOAN MITCHELL: Oh, I don’t know. I adulated the men so much they sort of liked me. I mean, I thought Bill [deKooning] was a great painter. They liked me.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah, but I mean, they would have liked you if you weren’t a painter, too. I mean, was there any feeling that. . . .

JOAN MITCHELL: I don’t think. . . . No, no, [Conrad] Marca-Relli [shows at McGee now] and Nic Carone [teaches at Studio School] in the Stable Gallery, they. . . . Hans Hofmann was very supportive—of me. I used to run into him in the park. I’d be dog-walking at nine in the morning, he’d say, “Mitchell, you should be painting.” Very nice. (both chuckle) I don’t think women in any way were a threat to these men, so they could encourage the “lady painter.”

LINDA NOCHLIN: Umm. But what if you. . . .

JOAN MITCHELL: Oh, no, I was very seriously involved in painting, they knew that.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah.

JOAN MITCHELL: Philip Guston was very nice to me.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yes. So you didn’t feel any difference?

JOAN MITCHELL: Well, about what?

LINDA NOCHLIN: I mean, if you’d been a man painter?

JOAN MITCHELL: I would have had a lot easier time.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah, okay.

JOAN MITCHELL: And had a lot more security, assurance of something.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right. If you’d been Joe Mitchell.

JOAN MITCHELL: Yeah, but I never painted under. . . .

LINDA NOCHLIN: Oh, no.

JOAN MITCHELL: Well, Grace painted [as] George.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Grace, George.

JOAN MITCHELL: But I went to female shrink who sort of encouraged me. I encouraged her, too. (laughter)

LINDA NOCHLIN: Both of you needed all the encouragement. . . . Right, okay. No, I think that’s an interesting aspect of coming of age in the fifties, etcetera.

JOAN MITCHELL: Oh, I’m. . . . Well, with the—I’ve said this—the galleries had quota systems, two women to a gallery, if they were lucky. [Kootz] didn’t show women. Janis didn’t show women. You know.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah, so it was there.

JOAN MITCHELL: Yeah, you couldn’t _____ do your show.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Okay. So you had your first one-woman show in February 1952 at the New Gallery.

JOAN MITCHELL: Yeah, that New. . . .

LINDA NOCHLIN: How was that received? I mean, what was the response?

JOAN MITCHELL: Well, all of the club came. I mean, your openings were assured in those days.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Assured, right, yes.

JOAN MITCHELL: Because we all went to each other’s.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right.

JOAN MITCHELL: And I was so scared. But it was fine.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah, it went well. The response was good. [Artist’s response, which was wonderful and a great deal. Now there’s just money and cutthroat horror.]

JOAN MITCHELL: I don’t. . . . Well, that’s all there was in those days.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yes, yes.

JOAN MITCHELL: I don’t remember selling anything. (laughs)

LINDA NOCHLIN: Oh, well, I didn’t mean. . . . That was not even what I was, you know. . . . No. But were there reviews or general. . . .

JOAN MITCHELL: I think so. I was always reviewed in those days.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yes. And it was positive.

JOAN MITCHELL: Only. . . . I think, aside from wonderful statements, like Canaday saying I was even worse than Kline and deKooning. [That was later.]

LINDA NOCHLIN: Oh, well, that’s a compliment. Of course, that _____ _____.

JOAN MITCHELL: I don’t think, aside from a review of Paul Brach, not too long ago—I’ll find that—I don’t think I’ve had many bad reviews.

LINDA NOCHLIN: No.

JOAN MITCHELL: I’m

LINDA NOCHLIN: Or you’re reviewed well?

JOAN MITCHELL: Yeah. I’ve been kind of lucky over the years.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yes. Well, that says something about your work, aside from your luck. (laughs) Maybe. Okay, so you went back to Paris in 1955. And you began to move back and forth between France and New York?

JOAN MITCHELL: Yeah. That’s. . . . Do you want a story on or off the record?

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah.

JOAN MITCHELL: That’s how I met. . . . Shirley [Jaffe—Ed.] introduced me to The Twenty-Four-Year Live-In [Jean Paul Riopelle].

LINDA NOCHLIN: Ohhh.

JOAN MITCHELL: I wrote to Shirley, whom we were just speaking of. . . .

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right.

JOAN MITCHELL: My shrink said, “Don’t go back to Easthampton for summer. Come on. Call up your mother. She has money. Get her to give you a ticket to Paris for the summer.”

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right.

JOAN MITCHELL: And it wasn’t the kind of the thing a shrink usually did, sort of giving advice.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah.

JOAN MITCHELL: I said, “I don’t have no money. Mmm, I don’t like France.” But I, you know, I wrote Shirley [Jaffe], and I said, “I’ll be in such and such a hotel and I’m going to go to bed, and so do something about it.” So she called me from Saint Germain des Pres, and I said, “Oh, come to the hotel,” and she said, “Oh, no! (chuckles) I’m sitting in a cafe in Saint Germain, and I’ll wait for you.” [In other words, “Get out of bed and do something.”]

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right.

JOAN MITCHELL: So I had to go out of the hotel, right?

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeess, of course. That was a very clever move, right?

JOAN MITCHELL: Oh, yeah. And I got there and then I met, there I met Sam Francis and then [Norman] Bluhm, [Riopell, etc.]. A day or two later I met Saul Steinberg. There were a lot of people in Paris [even in summer].

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right. There was in fact a kind of group, wasn’t there?

JOAN MITCHELL: Yeah, but there were a lot of people from here.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Who came back and forth.

JOAN MITCHELL: Yeah, oh yeah.

LINDA NOCHLIN: But there was a kind of staying over. . . .

JOAN MITCHELL: And the end of the Surrealists and. . . . _____ all the stuff up and down Saint Germain des Pres.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Still an existentialist. . . .

JOAN MITCHELL: Yeah. Well, there. . . . And then I got involved [with Riopelle], and that sort of [screwed everything]. And then I would go back and winter in New York, and see the shrink.

LINDA NOCHLIN: I see, I see.

JOAN MITCHELL: And paint. And then in—on St. Mark’s—and then I would go back. The summer in ‘59, I bought a place—not bought; I bought the key—to a studio, so then I started painting there.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yes. That was on the rue Fremicourt?

JOAN MITCHELL: Yeah.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Which was in what arrondissement?

JOAN MITCHELL: Fifteenth.

LINDA NOCHLIN: The fifteenth.

JOAN MITCHELL: On the wrong side of the tracks.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right, right. And you started staying there, just. . . .

JOAN MITCHELL: Yeah. And painting there. Then. . . .

LINDA NOCHLIN: Full-time, not going back to New York?

JOAN MITCHELL: Pretty much. Then we spent a summer, in ‘60, in Easthampton.

LINDA NOCHLIN: I see.

JOAN MITCHELL: With his children.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right. Do you want to mention his name for the record?

JOAN MITCHELL: Oh. If they want a record, they can get it. [Jean Paul Riopelle, French Canadian painter, born 1923, Montreal. Left me for ____ with 26-year-old American dogsitter (1980) who was living in my house. They too are split now.]

LINDA NOCHLIN: Okay.

JOAN MITCHELL: Doesn’t matter to me, really.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Okay. So you spent the summer of ‘60 in Easthampton with his children?

JOAN MITCHELL: Yeah, we rented one of Barney’s houses.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right.

JOAN MITCHELL: Who was on his third wife then. [Now he’s on his fourth. We’re still good friends. I think the fourth is over.]

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right.

JOAN MITCHELL: And then we went back, and then he had a sailboat that belonged to, had belonged to Pierre Matisse, and then we sailed, after that, in the summers.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right.

JOAN MITCHELL: Very fatiguing.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right. (laughs) It doesn’t sound so terrible. You can _____ fatigue.

JOAN MITCHELL: That’s a lot of hard work.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah, I know, I’ve sailed.

JOAN MITCHELL: It’s a small space to. . . .

LINDA NOCHLIN: I sailed a 45-foot ketch.

JOAN MITCHELL: That’s what it was: 45-foot single-mast Bermuda cutter.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yes, yes.

JOAN MITCHELL: But it’s small space to fight in.

LINDA NOCHLIN: It is hell when you fight on one of those boats, ‘cause there ain’t no place to go!

JOAN MITCHELL: That’s, Rufus Zogbaum [painter] used to sail with. . . . [His dead father was the sculptor Wilfred Zogbaum.]

LINDA NOCHLIN: Oh really?

JOAN MITCHELL: Yeah, he was crew.

LINDA NOCHLIN: What about that group in Paris?

JOAN MITCHELL: I never felt there was a group.

LINDA NOCHLIN: You didn’t feel there was a group.

JOAN MITCHELL: But they seemed to. . . . I thought it was sort of Americans clinging to Americans.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah, well that’s a group. (laughter)

JOAN MITCHELL: You know. . . .

LINDA NOCHLIN: Sam and. . . .

JOAN MITCHELL: I saw a lot of Sam in those days, because he was a good friend of Riopelle, and the three of us were together a lot. Also I lived near his studio there [summer ‘55]. And I didn’t like his work and it took me a some time to like it. And then I did—like acquiring a taste for olives or beer?

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah.

JOAN MITCHELL: Those are the two things I had to acquire a taste for. (laughter)

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right. But once you get the taste it tends to stick with you.

JOAN MITCHELL: But it was a little like that. And I missed New York terribly.

LINDA NOCHLIN: What did you feel lacking in Paris?

JOAN MITCHELL: People.

LINDA NOCHLIN: People.

JOAN MITCHELL: [A year or so].

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right.

JOAN MITCHELL: Brutal. . . . Not brutality, the strength of the city.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right.

JOAN MITCHELL: And I miss, I still miss that, but it’s not here [New York] anymore. It’s not the same thing.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah, it’s changed, totally, _____. So the years between ‘59 and ‘69 were mainly spent in Paris? I mean, until you moved to Vetheuil?

JOAN MITCHELL: Umm, yeah. Well, then I’d come to New York. I kept on showing in New York.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right.

JOAN MITCHELL: But I didn’t paint here, only came.

LINDA NOCHLIN: And you were having shows all the time, just talking about these years between when you moved into the studio. . . .

JOAN MITCHELL: Yeah.

LINDA NOCHLIN: . . . in the rue Fremicourt and when you got the Vetheuil place.

JOAN MITCHELL: Yeah.

LINDA NOCHLIN: You showed at the Stable Gallery?

JOAN MITCHELL: Well, I showed at the Stable and then, oh, and—oh what was her name? [Beatrice Monte. She had a gallery—rue des Beaux Arts—with Larry Rubin, where I first showed in Paris. Then I was with Larry Rubin [now head of Knoedler Gallery, New York] very briefly. Until. . . .

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right. But he had the Lawrence Gallery in Paris.

JOAN MITCHELL: I showed there. And also at the [Jacques] Dubourg.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right.

JOAN MITCHELL: And then [Clement—Ed.] Greenberg took over [as adviser to Larry Rubin].

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right.

JOAN MITCHELL: Do you include that? It’s up to you.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Sure. And then you showed in 1960 at the Gallerie del Ariete [Beatrice Monte again] in Milan, it says.

JOAN MITCHELL: I think that was a little before that. I think it was around ‘58.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah, okay.

JOAN MITCHELL: I’m sure it was.

LINDA NOCHLIN: And you showed at Dwan [in L.A.] in those days?

JOAN MITCHELL: I never went there.

LINDA NOCHLIN: No?

JOAN MITCHELL: I showed there, yeah. [Once, I think.]

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah, but you did show there. And then you had a big retrospective, or something, at Carbondale, Southern Illinois University?

JOAN MITCHELL: I never saw that either.

LINDA NOCHLIN: In Carbondale. Joan Mitchell Paintings ‘51 to ‘61.

JOAN MITCHELL: I never saw that.

LINDA NOCHLIN: It must have been an early. . . .

JOAN MITCHELL: Retrospective.

LINDA NOCHLIN: . . . retrospective. It’s interesting when you [think] you’re all go. . . . And obviously your reputation was growing, I mean, you were. . . .

JOAN MITCHELL: It was good then, until the Pop Art and Stain school squished us all.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right.

JOAN MITCHELL: I mean, tried to. And did a good job, I think, for a while.

LINDA NOCHLIN: For a while, but I mean, as you say, all these things go on without. . . .

JOAN MITCHELL: Oh sure.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Also I just wondered, you know, that whole term “second generation.”

JOAN MITCHELL: Oh, I’ve been asked and asked about that.

LINDA NOCHLIN: I mean, is that a boring term, or isn’t it?

JOAN MITCHELL: Well, it seems to have stuck! I think it’s a very boring term. I’ve answered that in the fall show.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yes, right.

JOAN MITCHELL: No [Stephen] Westfall [painter, crtic Art in America]. I think. . . . I mean, we were younger, so we were second, but we were painting at the same time as they were, really.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah.

JOAN MITCHELL: We were.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right. I totally agree.

JOAN MITCHELL: And it was, you know, a way of. . . .

LINDA NOCHLIN: _____ were castoffs.

JOAN MITCHELL: It’s a put-down, but, I don’t know, I don’t care. I call myself a “lady painter” and AEOH—Abstract Expressionist Old Hat, you know.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah, that’s absolutely. . . . So you moved to the house at Vetheuil, the gardner’s cottage of which had been. . . .

JOAN MITCHELL: Monet’s house.

LINDA NOCHLIN: . . . Monet’s house.

JOAN MITCHELL: Well, my mother died, in ‘67, so I got some of the bridge money.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right. (chuckles)

JOAN MITCHELL: And so I bought that house, thinking I wouldn’t have to dogwalk—I had three Skye terriers, that came from Patricia Matisse—and keep Fremicourt, but it would, thought that also, ohh, maybe cheer up a kind of bad relationship with The Twenty-Four-Year Live-In. And. . . .

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right. So you could sort of go to Paris. . . .

JOAN MITCHELL: But then they demolished my place in Paris.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Oh, did they?

JOAN MITCHELL: Oh, yeah.

LINDA NOCHLIN: I never knew that.

JOAN MITCHELL: I had to get out of that. So I was stuck in the country. That got a little bit hairy.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right.

JOAN MITCHELL: And I still am. (laughs)

LINDA NOCHLIN: There you are. Could you talk a little about the place of dogs in your life? (chuckling) Because I happen to love dogs, too, and I’m just. . . .

JOAN MITCHELL: Well, I think they are very important. When Barney insisted on divorcing me, as he had on marrying me, he went to Paris and bought George, and he said a Frenchman was coming, and it was George, my poodle—who had distemper. It took me all winter to cure him. But he was a very important part of my life. And the first dog I had ever had. And then from then on, then I said, “No, I like dogs too much,” then Patricia Matisse gave me these dogs.

LINDA NOCHLIN: The three Skye terriers?

JOAN MITCHELL: Yeah, they were children of their Toy-Toy. Patricia Matisse gave me that one dog, and then three dogs. Well, for the children, only Joan took care of everything.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yes, I mean, that’s standard, yeah.

JOAN MITCHELL: Yeah. I’ve had thirteen dogs, and I’ve never bought one.

LINDA NOCHLIN: They’ve all been given.

JOAN MITCHELL: Yeah. [Mme. Gigitte] Maeght gave me Iva, the German shepherd.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Right, and you now have, what, four German shepherds?

JOAN MITCHELL: I’ve three Germans. . . . [Iva had puppies and I kept two—Marion (named after my mother) and Madeleine (named after a mistress of The Twenty-Four-Year Live-In). Iva died September 25, 1986. I am still crying. She was wonderful.]

LINDA NOCHLIN: Three. That’s right.

JOAN MITCHELL: . . . and a little Brittany spaniel that was the daughter of another Brittany spaniel, that a vet gave me.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Oh. (laughs)

JOAN MITCHELL: Okay, and then I’ve had abandoned dogs and one thing and another. But they are very good company, and. . . .

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah. No, I would never be without a dog, so. . . .

JOAN MITCHELL: What do you have, Linda?

LINDA NOCHLIN: I have a Scotty. I had a Saint Bernard.

JOAN MITCHELL: Up in. . . .

LINDA NOCHLIN: In the country.

JOAN MITCHELL: . . . in Vassar, not in. . . . That’s heavy stuff.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah, but the Scotty is just wonderful. He is. . . .

JOAN MITCHELL: Nasty little terriers. They are very tetu, very. . . .

LINDA NOCHLIN: Oh, stubborn.

JOAN MITCHELL: Stubborn, yeah.

LINDA NOCHLIN: He just sits down on his haunches and that’s. . . .

JOAN MITCHELL: Nice dogs.

LINDA NOCHLIN: They are nice. Okay, so you have been at Vetheuil since 1969.

JOAN MITCHELL: No, ‘68, I think. [July ‘67. I bought it.]

LINDA NOCHLIN: ‘68.

JOAN MITCHELL: But I didn’t work there. [Painted there starting ‘68.]

LINDA NOCHLIN: I see.

JOAN MITCHELL: I started in, got it in summer of ‘67, and Ed Clark, who is a painter, and his wife, lived there and painted. He painted in my studio, but he also painted the walls; it was kind of an exchange.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Oh, I see.

JOAN MITCHELL: And I’d go out on weekends.

LINDA NOCHLIN: I see, in the sixties. [1967 to be exact.]

JOAN MITCHELL: Yeah, well, and then I started. . . . I was still painting at Fremicourt and I remember starting the sunflowers, which I saw in Vetheuil and painted them in Fremicourt, you see, and _____. The thing about Fremicourt, also about St. Marks, I had to roll [big] paintings to get them out, which was a real drag, because of thickness [of paint]. And when I started painting in Vetheuil, you can just take the [stretched] paintings out. Well, that really changed unconsciously an awful lot of. . . . Walk them out stretched, it’s great.

LINDA NOCHLIN: Sure, exactly. Oh, because otherwise, it’s a real mess with heavy paint.

JOAN MITCHELL: Yeah, the paintings start cracking and all.

LINDA NOCHLIN: When did start working in, you know, diptychs, triptychs. . . .

JOAN MITCHELL: That had to do with Fremicourt, because of transport [to New York].

LINDA NOCHLIN: I see.

JOAN MITCHELL: Wanting to make a big painting and doing it in. . . .

LINDA NOCHLIN: Parts.

JOAN MITCHELL: Sure, you couldn’t get anything out [down the stairs]. And then I got. . . . I don’t like the idea of, I see no reason for a painting that is continual, you know, and then cut. Why cut it?

LINDA NOCHLIN: Yeah, right.

JOAN MITCHELL: I think it should have, I mean, go together but not. . . .

LINDA NOCHLIN: Necessarily. . . .

[Tape 2, side A]
[Carl Plansky (CP), whom JM describes as a “good painter,” arrived for his “date” with JM, joining in the conversation—Ed.]

LINDA NOCHLIN: . . . intermission _____. (laughs) _____ go _____ since _____. This is the second tape.

JOAN MITCHELL: You’re doing my crossword book.

CARL PLANSKY: Just only the easy ones. I’ll leave the hard ones for you.

LINDA NOCHLIN: This is the second tape on the Archives of American Art Smithsonian Institution, an interview with Joan Mitchell on April 16, 1986, at the Westbury Hotel in New York. The interviewer is Linda Nochlin. Tape number two, side A. Okay. Now, we were, I was up to, you remember, the triptych.

Continue reading the interview at the Archives of American Art website.