Sunday, January 8, 2012

Review: Joan Mitchell, Lady Painter: A Life

Joan Mitchell, Lady Painter: A LifeJoan Mitchell, Lady Painter: A Life by Patricia Albers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Not everyone will "like" Joan Mitchell. A classic "difficult" personality, she struggled with the gender bias of the fifties Abstract Expressionist era to become an accomplished and successful painter. She emerges as as an amazing individual, indomitable, sexy, loud, alcoholic, vulgar, passionate, socially brutal, insecure, ambitious, fearful, moody, vindictive, devoted to her friends and lovers, and haunted by the demons of memory and emotion, which she experienced directly as color and form. The author argues that she was a true full-blown synesthete, and experienced words, people, emotions, places, and memories directly as colors: there's a lot of evidence for this, although Joan never seems to have known that synesthesia is a well-documented (although rare) condition, and spent much of her life fearing she was insane. Some of the most fascinating and beautiful passages deal with her intutitive and passionate color expression, for example:

"Pigment flying upward and outward, the artist had snarled up browns, dark greens, blues, viridians and, most strikingly, pink corals, roses, and orchids, amid whites helter-skelter with flecks and cascades of drips."

You may find yourself rooting for her in the end, as she continues to create passionate, enormous canvases to the very end, as her body totally falls apart.

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