Blog post revisiting John Ashberry's 1965 review of Joan Mitchell's paintings at Stable Gallery republished on the occasion of the exhibition Joan Mitchell: Retrospective, Her Life and Paintings at Kunsthaus Bregenz, on view through October 25, 2015.
Ashberry observes: "The relation of [Mitchell's] painting and that of other Abstract-Expressionists to nature has never really been clarified. On the one hand there are painters who threaten you if you dare let their abstract landscapes suggest a landscape. On the other hand there are painters like Joan Mitchell who are indifferent to these deductions when they are not actively encouraging them. Is one of these things better or worse than the other, and ought abstract painting to stay abstract? … What then is the difference between, say, Joan Mitchell’s kind of painting and a very loose kind of landscape painting? … Is this then figurative painting, and if so what is the meaning of the term Abstract-Expressionism? The answer seems to be that one’s feelings about nature are at different removes from it. There will be elements of the things seen even in the most abstracted impression; otherwise the feeling is likely to disappear and leave an object in its place. At other times feelings remain close to the subject, which is nothing against them; in fact, feelings that leave the subject intact may be freer to develop, in and around the theme and independent of it as well. This seems to be the case in Girolata—for once the feelings were a reflection of the precise look of the creek, or cliff, or whatever; nevertheless it is this reflection rather than the memory it suggests that remains the dominating force of the painting."