Joan Mitchell Publications & Media

Joan Mitchell: Lady Painter

Author: Patricia Albers

Published by Knopf (2011)
544 pages with plates

Available for purchase here.

One of Joan’s favorite haunts, the smoke-and stale beer–perfumed San Remo had black- and- white tiled floors, a pressed-tin ceiling, a dark-mirrored bar, and a clientele that included James Agee, Miles Davis, Judith Malina, Tennessee Williams, and young New York poets.

There painter Jane Freilicher used to observe Joan and Mike across the room — she in jeans and the talismanic long leather coat — smoking, drinking, huddling conspiratorially over a little table, and looking “very French New Wave.”

Besides painting, jazz held the two rapt. A connoisseur of early jazz — Louis Armstrong, Buck Clayton, Bessie Smith — Mike knew everything and everybody, while Joan dug, above all, Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald, and that fabulous “B. Holiday woman.” Jazz had seduced her with its urban cast, moody romanticism, blend of discipline and instinct, and aura of freedom and authenticity. Trombonist and painter Howard Kanovitz (to whom she introduced Beethoven’s late quartets) saw distinctly, however, that Joan

wasn’t really there as far as I was concerned. She was a square, and we were hip. A very clear distinction as far as I was concerned. Although Joan smoked some grass like everybody else, that didn’t make her hip . . . Mike Goldberg was hip. And Miles Forst was hip. And Ray Parker was hip . . . [But] Joan didn’t have rhythm in her soul.

She did have a near-mystical feeling for paint. Squeezed by the class she was taking at NYU (Painting of the Early Middle Ages), three weekly sessions with Fried, and a chockablock social life, Joan nonetheless painted hard all that fall. Loading her brushes with blacks, whites, ochres, blues, and reds, she was producing muscular, jostling canvases rife with ambiguities, complexities, and urban tensions, using Hofmannesque push and pull. By the first of the year, Joan had what she considered sixteen decent paintings, fifteen of them squarish and around six by seven feet, and one, Cross Section of a Bridge, six and a half by nearly ten feet. In early January these went to the New Gallery, where they were installed by consultant Leo Castelli.

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