Joan Mitchell Lady Painter by Patricia Albers


Joan Mitchell in the studio, photo by Loomis Dean

Okay, let’s be real. I had a little extra pep in my step about selecting this Joan Mitchell biography, because it’s a profile of an artist who also happens to be a woman. I’ve read the De Kooning, the Picasso, what else?  I feel like a lot!

This book had other things going for it though, it just came out last year, it looked definitive (as in over 4oo pages) AND  the book jacket was yellow, just like the Pulitzer Prize-winning De Kooning biography.

Well, I love Joan Mitchell’s paintings, but found this biography of her not on par with her work. Doubtless it takes a lot of work to compile the information and write an account like this but that’s probably the greatest feeling I get from the book, the old critique that it ‘feels like a lot of work.’ Which in the end means it feels like a lot of work to read.

When I sit back and reflect on what I learned about Joan Mitchell as an artist and a person, there is no doubt I have a clearer image of her. In fact, I felt exhausted by Mitchell by the end, as probably many of the people who were subjected to her incisive jibes and inquisitions felt. All the same, I couldn’t help but feeling that as in the case of the therapist who is out-smarted by the patient, Albers was simply not up to the task of writing a compelling memoir of such a complex character.

There are tons of metaphors to describe the difference between doing everything right, and creating something artful, the most appropriate for this book is probably playing all the right notes, without creating a piece that is moving and powerful. Having read the fabulous De Kooning biography, picking up this curiously similar yellow book jacket, I was expecting a read that would be enlightening as well as riveting, as his biography was. Sadly, this was not the case.

But hey, lots of smart people had good things to say about this book, including the reviewers in the New York Times and the New Yorker. However, if you’re interested you should probably see if you can get it at your local library and save yourself the money and shelf space.

-Gina Beavers

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