© Estate of Joan Mitchell
oil on canvas
78 3/4 in. x 119 3/4 in. (200.03 cm x 304.17 cm)
Gift of Sam and May Gruber,
Joan Mitchell is an important figure in the later history of Abstract Expressionism. Born in Chicago in 1925, she studied English literature at Smith College before breaking off to pursue painting. Earning a BFA at the Art Institute of Chicago, Mitchell traveled to France on a Ryerson Fellowship in 1948-49. Following her return to the United States, she settled in New York City, where she became involved in the Abstract Expressionist scene. Inspired by the work of Willem de Kooning (1904-1997) and Franz Kline (1910-1962), Mitchell developed a dense and vigorously gestural style whose appearance of spontaneity belied the artist's slow and deliberate approach to painting.
One of the few women painters to be embraced by the exclusive Abstract Expressionists' organization known as "the Club," Mitchell nonetheless gradually moved from New York to Paris. By 1959 she had settled permanently in France, and in 1967, she acquired a home and studio at Vétheuil. Remaining committed to Abstract Expressionism through the Pop and Op Art movements of the 1960s, Mitchell during the 1970s emerged as one of Action Painting's most vital and enduring practitioners. She was given her first museum retrospective at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, New York, in 1972, and in 1974 she was honored with a retrospective mounted by the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. Despite illnesses and personal misfortunes during the last decade of her life, Mitchell remained active, drawing new inspiration from her negative experiences. The artist died of lung cancer in 1992.
The Currier's Cous-cous was painted during the early 1960s, when Mitchell began to employ an exceptionally broad range of color and brushstroke in her work. Dominated by vivid oranges, greens, blues, and earth tones, Cous-cous incorporates many Abstract Expressionist painting techniques, including drips, spattering, and heavy impasto applied with both brush and palette knife. Slashing, seemingly random brushstrokes convey a sense of violent emotion, yet the composition itself is carefully balanced and centered within the rectangular canvas. Although the artist acknowledged the angry quality of her paintings during this period, she consistently maintained a sense of order and structure, which, for her, upheld the integrity of her work.
Mitchell's interest in relationships of color as well as forms echoes the practice of Hans Hofmann (q.v.), then at the height of his career and acknowledged by artists and critics alike as one of the most influential teachers of modern painting. Mitchell admired Hofmann and, like him, based many of her compositions on an external subject, sometimes seen, but more often remembered. The titles that Mitchell gave to her paintings, however, were frequently whimsical and bore little relationship to the work itself. Such is the case with Cous-cous, whose invocation of the popular Moroccan dish seems inscrutable in light of the painting's imposing size and emotional impact. Additionally, Mitchell's tendency to let the ground of the painting emerge through her brushstrokes serves as a continual reminder to viewers that she is working on a flat surface. In marked contrast to Hofmann, she did not attempt to create a separate illusionistic "reality" within her painting. Instead, her work refers back to herself, to her experiences, and to the choices she makes as an artist.
Cous-cous was presented to the Currier Museum of Art in 1992 by collectors Samuel and May Gruber.
Judith E. Bernstock. Joan Mitchell. Ex. cat. Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, 1988.
1992 Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, NH, "The Currier of the Future: New and Promised Gifts." Feb. 25 - May 24, cat. no. 27.
1994 Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, NH, "Novices Collect: Selections from the Sam and May Gruber Collection." Sept. 10 - Dec. 4, cat. no. 42.
2006-2007 Portland Museum of Art, Portland, ME, "Masterpieces from the Currier Museum of Art." Sept. 2006 - Oct. 1, 2007.
2014 Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, NH, "May Gruber Bequest." Feb. 21 - May 30.
2008 Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, NH, "In the Artist's Words."
Sam and May Gruber
Gift to Currier Gallery of Art, 1992