The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Joan Mitchell’s early sketches show style

Walking into the Pollock Gallery’s new exhibition, “Joan Mitchell: The 1946-1952 Sketchbook Drawings and Related Works,” one might be surprised to see numerous framed sketches that resemble children’s doodles and scribbled pencil marks.

There are 60 pages from a single sketchbook of Mitchell’s on display, supplemented by a handful of finished drawings and paintings, which range from blue ballpoint pen sketches to charcoal line exercises.

Many seem to have an element of instantaneousness and free thought, but one should be careful of a superficial first impression. This exhibit is a highly insightful and illuminating exercise in documenting a turning point or transitional shift in an important 20th century artist’s style.

Joan Mitchell, born in 1925, is best known for her large-scale, multi-panel canvases inspired by her analytical naturalism. Loosely associated with the second wave of the New York School, Mitchell’s mature style continued formal connections pioneered by abstract expression artists like Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, who heavily influenced her approach.

This exhibition serves as a beginning point for her long career, and as such we see an artist still attached to the figural and not entirely sure of her direction.

Yet present in these sketches and finished pieces are the seeds of Mitchell’s mature style: highly gestural and abstracted movements, bright colors in the accompanying paintings included in the exhibition and, most importantly, the observation of the landscape she inhabited.

A wonderful series on the back wall shows a series of sketches and final pencil/charcoal drawings of scenes from the subways of New York, the city where she lived until permanently moving to France in the 1950s.

In these sketches we not only see Mitchell’s process of creating a final product but her development of abstracted, de-gendered figures. This type of figure, head down, arms crossed and genderless, is visible in numerous sketches and drawings throughout the exhibition.

Though Mitchell would eventually abandon the figure entirely in her work, these solitary and nondescript figures are haunting and highly emotive.

There is always danger in exhibiting an artist’s sketchbook in a show where it is the sole focus. Questions of intention and display surely come into play, and one cannot help but wonder how the artist would feel about pieces of her sketchbook being dismantled and framed in a gallery setting.

Some pages are matted and cropped in a peculiar fashion which makes the viewer wonder why the whole page was not seen, as so many of the other pages are.

In addition, the mere act of ripping out pages from a sketchbook seems questionable. Were there only 60 pages or was there editorial license in choosing which ones should be exhibited?

Placing these issues aside, the ability to truly get a glimpse of the artist’s hand and thought process is a luxury. Mitchell’s “doodles” may not always be visually captivating, but in terms of process and gesture they are invaluable.

The finished pieces are strategically placed near specific sketches to elicit interesting correlations, though the additions of the few paintings seem slightly out of place (at least in conjunction to the sketches, though not to the overall program of showing the progression of Mitchell’s style).

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