Joan Mitchell (1926-1992), Hemlock, 1956, oil on canvas, 231.1 x 203.2 cm, Witney Museum of American Art.
Over the long Easter weekend I was fortunate enough to escape the high-rents of London to my rents’ place in Norwich. And on Easter day, after lunch, in the fug of the night before, myself and some old school friends took a walk around the Broad at the University in the kind of wet, windy and snowy conditions that has been described as good for a schoolboy to fight with his satchel and feel dauntless. Being dauntless won’t spare a side-parting though, and the centrifugal force that was hurling us about started to make me think of Joan Mitchell’s conifer branches.
However, what is slapstick to me, is laden with doom for Mitchell. On her use of the colour white, Mitchell, a ‘second generation’ abstract expressionist often associated with Helen Frankenthaler, once said: ‘It’s death, it’s hospitals. It’s my terrible nurses. You can add in Melville, Moby Dick… White is absolute horror, just horror. It is the worst.’ Engaged in an endless tension between depth and flatness, Hemlock’s white canvas rings with portent, the flecks of red calling to mind Ahab’s need to strike the white whale, to bring up the blood, an end, eternal silence.
Now April, please sort yourself out, I’m fed up of feeling like the world is a snow globe and I’m the little fella trapped inside. TA