Joan Mitchell The Last Paintings at Hauser and Wirth, Piccadilly, London

Joan Mitchell Sunflowers 1990-1, o/c, Diptych 280 x 400.1 cm, courtesy Hauser and Wirth

There seem to be a lot of “male” shows in London at the moment. From the ten men of the London School  (Bacon, Auerbach, Hockney, Kossoff, Freud, etc.) who feature in the Mystery of Appearance at Haunch of Venison to Freud at the National Portrait Gallery to Hockney at the Royal Academy to Picasso in Britain at Tate Britain, modernism feels like a very male affair.

So it is especially refreshing to see Joan Mitchell’s paintings at Hauser and Wirth on Piccadilly. Mitchell (like Lee Krasner, Grace Hartigan, and Helen Frankenthaler) was one of the few women to be taken seriously on the Abstract Expressionist scene. Her huge canvases with their wonderful, exuberant and complicated surfaces are every bit as expressive as Jackson Pollock’s. Look at Sunflowers, a diptych 280 x 400.1 cm, painted when she was 65 years old. She died a year later.

Chicago raised, classically trained, Joan Mitchell met the Mexican muralists like Rivera and  Siqueros. Like Kandinsky – they have parallel energies and rhythms – she had synaesthesia, hearing in colours. (The smaller tondos upstairs at Hauser and Wirth are equally effective. They sing; paint held densely in discernible patterns.)

Unlike Pollock who was allegedly proud of not owning a passport, she found her inspiration in France’s landscapes and in painters like Monet and van Gogh. She was clear that paintings weren’t about art issues, they were about feelings but it’s also pleasing to read in this 1986 interview with art historian Linda Nochlin that she wasn’t a sheep:

“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.”

You have till April 28th to catch these paintings here:

For guided gallery visits


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