[Francis Naumann]

As the title of this exhibition indicates, “Joan Mitchell Sketchbook 1949-1951,” consists of a single sketchbook kept by the artist between the years 1949 and 1951.  It is a document consisting of approximately sixty separate pages (the majority of which are drawn on both sides).  Since the sketchbook is no longer bound, the pages were separated and the drawings individually matted and framed for display in this exhibition.  This sketchbook was only recently discovered, and has therefore never been recorded in the literature on this important artist.

           

           

The sketchbook dates from a pivotal moment in Mitchell’s career, for it was in these years that she shed her reliance upon figurative imagery and joined the ranks of other abstract painters in New York.  Professionally, the years 1949 through 1951 were very active and exciting for Mitchell, but her private life was tumultuous and in disarray, qualities that are somewhat reflected in the frenetic style of many drawings contained within the sketchbook.  In 1949, she married Barney Rosset, a filmmaker and friend whom she had known since high school, but it was a union destined to be short lived.  In 1950, she met the painter Michael Goldberg, with whom she would develop an intimate relationship that was fraught with its own problems.  Through Goldberg, however, she met many of the most important painters working in New York at the time.  They established friendships and engaged in debates with many artists who frequented the Cedar Street Tavern, and they attended round-table sessions and panel discussions at the Club, a loosely-knit group of abstract painters founded by Conrad Marca-Relli, Philip Pavia, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, all of whom were to become (in varying degrees) important influences on the future direction of Mitchell’s work.

The sketchbook preserves many drawings that were used as the basis for paintings.  Over the years, the majority of these paintings were either lost or destroyed, but a group of slides taken in this period give us a pretty good indication of their appearance.  Unfortunately, most of these slides have discolored over time, but the images have been digitized, color-corrected (as accurately as possible), and printed.  In this exhibition, these reproductions will be displayed alongside drawings within the sketchbook that relate to the imagery they contain.  Viewers will discover that many of the sketches were made of anonymous figures that Mitchell observed while walking the streets of Manhattan, or crowds riding the subway, disenfranchised souls that hearken to her longstanding commitment to social causes (in 1947, she was involved in the production of Rosset ‘s film Strange Victory, about race relations in the United States).  The sketches range from little more than random jottings on a page, several of which appear to be thoughts about the possible composition of a painting, to detailed drawings, a number of which continue to rely upon specific figurative sources (such as those of female nudes).  Finally, others exhibit a frenzied graphic quality that eerily presages the gestural abstract paintings that she would become known for in years to come.

Gallery Hours: Tuesday through Saturday 11:00 AM – 6:00 PM.  Monday by appointment only.