Joan Mitchell Almost Became a Realist and Thank Goodness She Didn’t

This is part of a series of quick, mostly unedited, short stories I am planning to do this year. The idea is, I go to a museum, pick a painting or a sculpture or a something, and then quickly write a story while standing or sitting in front of it. Like gesture drawings, but for stories. I only read the description after I’ve written the story.

Joan Mitchell
American, born Chicago, Illinois, 1925
Died outside Paris, France, 1992
Cous-cous, 1961-62
Oil and Acrylic on canvas
(from the Currier Museum of Art)

Abstract is not a style. I simply want to make a surface work. This is just a use of space and form; it’s an ambivalence of form and space. Style in painting has to do with labels. Lots of painters are obsessed with inventing something. When I was young, it never occurred to me to invent. All I wanted to do was paint.
Joan Mitchell, 1986.
Gift of Sam and Mary Gruber, 1992.2.1

“I’m angry.”

“You’re angry? How do you think I feel?”

“I assumed you’d be pleased. This was your idea.”

“It most certainly was not my idea.”

“You said: ‘Let’s mix them all together.'”

“I was being sarcastic.” She left the finger quotes linger for a moment to really punctuate how pissed off she was. He slumped into an overstuffed chair.

“We can’t fix it now. This was supposed to be a still life. A representation of a turtle on a table eating a bit of lettuce. Instead it looks like the turtle barfed up a chimichanga and then shat in the pile of barf and then like, I don’t know, rolled around in it?”

“I knew it. You don’t respect me. You think I’m a fraud.”

“I don’t. I just don’t think it was a great idea to collaborate on this particular project.”

Silence settled on them like a fine mist and soon they were both sitting, staring at the canvas with their heads cocked to one side.

“We could lean into it, you know.” His eyes were darting back and forth.

“Add another color!” She clapped her hands together and stood up with a little hop. “Hand me that can of orange paint.”

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