|Joan Mitchell's 1976 painting 'Red Tree© |
Estate of Joan Mitchell,
courtesy of the Joan Mitchell Foundation
and Cheim & Read Gallery, New York.
Joan Mitchell's raw 1976 painting 'Red Tree' called
WSJ, July 24, 2014
Few women painters earned a place in the distinctly macho American Abstract Expressionist school, but Joan Mitchell (1925-1992) was one of them. More impressive, she sealed that reputation largely while living in the un-American environs of France, where she spent the last three decades of her life.
Beginning in her student days, Mitchell—who is known for her emotional brushwork, rich palette and rebellious spirit—began creating paintings inspired by her fascination with the form of trees. When casting about for an artwork on which to base July's arrangement, I was moved by a show of Mitchell's abstracted tree canvases at New York's Cheim & Read gallery, which runs through Aug. 29. Drifting among her works was like walking through a haunting, majestic forest. With its slashes of deep red, splotches of black and pale lavender drips, "Red Tree" (1976) particularly spurred thoughts of potential arrangements.
To help convey the strength of this work, I started with a pair of glazed black ceramic vessels which emulated Mitchell's forms—one lanky and tall, the other a bulbous swell—by industrial designer Joseph Fratesi of Atlas Industries (who is my husband). For the flowers, I went for deep clarets, the darkest reds I could find, in plumelike amaranthus, pompom-ish sanguisorbia, almost black dahlias and scabiosa. To echo the lavender notes, I mixed in a few sprigs of scabiosa in the palest purple.
While arranging the flowers, I abandoned any rules about massing, and tried to channel Mitchell's approach, with elements rising and dipping randomly as if left there by a swiftly moving brush. That said, I was careful to consider the negative spaces, to capture the more open parts of the canvas. Such arrangements are freeing. Mitchell was using the painting to convey feelings; in shutting off your sense of how things should be done "properly," you can have a little taste of that pleasure.