Published by Knopf
Joan Mitchell – Midwestern steel heiress; ice-skating champion – came of age as an artist on New York’s Tenth Street in the 1950s, knocking back beers at the Cedar Bar with de Kooning, Pollock, Kline, et al; carousing in the Hamptons with Frank O’Hara, Saul Steinberg, Helen Frankenthaler; hanging out with hip cats at the Five Spot; and forging her own path in an art world convinced that women couldn’t paint.
In Joan Mitchell, Patricia Albers brilliantly reconstructs Mitchell’s large and reckless life (her debutante years growing up in the Midwest; the evolution of her extraordinary work; her marriage to Barney Rosset Jr., owner and publisher of Grove Press; her affairs; her exhibitions) as seen through the times, the people, and the worlds of Chicago, Lake Forest, New York, Long Island’s East End, and the expatriate circles of Paris – from the 1920s through the 1990s.
Albers’s ambitious, capacious biography channels the notorious bravado of a woman it casts as an “eidetic synesthete,” who suffered from alcoholism, depression, and seasonal affective disorder. … Like Mitchell’s vast canvases, Albers’s impressive book ought to be experienced in the morning, “for it can animate the entire day.”
In this first biography of renowned abstract expressionist painter Joan Mitchell (1925–1992), Albers…vividly chronicles the artist’s tortuous journey from her wealthy upbringing in Chicago to her defiant student days at Smith College, and as a young painter at the Art Institute of Chicago when “the wisdom of the day held that women couldn’t really paint.” … Vibrantly written and carefully researched, including numerous interviews with Mitchell’s former husband, Barney Rosset (former owner of Grove Press), friends, lovers, and colleagues, Albers constructs a fluid, energetic narrative of Mitchell’s complicated life and work.
Art historian Patricia Albers, who spent eight years on this densely packed, excellent biography, offers a largely sympathetic portrait of Mitchell, uncovering ample evidence of her warmth and generosity and tracing her outrageous behavior to a variety of unresolved psychological issues.
Albers…doesn’t flinch. Her thoroughly researched book details Mitchell’s alcoholism, depression, sexual exploits, foul-mouthed arguments, violent outbursts, and general rudeness. Angry artists aren’t exactly rare, but Mitchell is surely in the hall of champions. … And yet, this is a compelling story about a deeply conflicted artist who forged meaningful if fitful relationships and found great joy in painting. … [Albers] conveys the intensity of the creative process as well as the essential look and feel of the paintings.
“Joan Mitchell: Lady Painter” is a huge canvas with lots of messy scenes. … Toward the end, Joan Mitchell earned the respect of peers and critics and the rewards of the market, thanks to savvy dealers. She shares wall space with the men she so admired. We now know how much of their legendary unhappiness she also shared.
Albers thoughtfully traces the artist’s life from beginning to end with great sophistication and style….
The research and writing are just stunning! A real masterpiece of exploration, the life of this many-faceted and fascinating artist. I appreciate the respect with which you treat Mitchell’s synesthesia and its possible place in her creative impulse. Brava!