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Joan Mitchell: Lady Painter

3.96  ·  Rating Details  ·  157 Ratings  ·  30 Reviews
“Gee, Joan, if only you were French and male and dead.” —New York art dealer to Joan Mitchell, the 1950s

She was a steel heiress from the Midwest—Chicago and Lake Forest (her grandfather built Chicago’s bridges and worked for Andrew Carnegie). She was a daughter of the American Revolution—Anglo-Saxon, Republican, Episcopalian.

She was tough, disciplined, courageous, dazzlin
ebook, 544 pages
Published May 3rd 2011 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2011)
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Richard Derus
Rating: 3.9* of five

The Book Report: This is a life, not a biography, in the sense that it offers more of a rounded picture of Joan Mitchell than a rigorous analysis of her milieu and her position and her place in history. Mitchell, a hard-drinking, hard-loving, hard broad, is famous if you know who she is, and invisible if you don't. I suspect that would make her really, really mad. Mitchell was a daughter of privilege, wealthy dermatologist father and novelist/poet/editor ([[Marion Sobel Mitch
Jun 14, 2013 Carolynz rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art
This was a grueling book to get through. Joan was a hard person to like and an even harder person to read about. The episodes containing her mistreatment of friends and the passages about her drinking alone are disheartening. That being said, I can't stop thinking about her story, even a few weeks after I'm done reading.

I consider her one of my favorite painters so I came to the book as a fan. I had no idea she led such a privileged life growing up. I agree the backstory spelling out the histor
Oct 22, 2011 Kathleen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art, biography
1. So far it's a tedious review of family history. Interesting that Mitchell's grandfather was an engineer who built bridges, including the original Van Buren Street drawbridge in Chicago.
2. Now I'm in her NY days. I do not like her, which is good. It means the book is honest. It portrays Mitchell as fastidiously self-serving. OK, she's also deeply troubled. And bent on being an artist. I'm at the part where she despises her wealthy parents, while living off their $$, of course. Once her father
Sep 17, 2011 Jeannine rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Delighted to discover a new-to-me artist in Joan Mitchell whose paintings stir me.

I'm learning that art and artist are separate entities and one can appreciate one and not the other. For example, earlier this year I read Flannery O'Connor's letters and came away with enormous admiration for her talent, vision, and character, but found her fiction very difficult to read. In that case I value the artist, not so much the art.

With this book, it's the reverse. Love the art, but Mitchell the artist,
Nov 06, 2012 Manda rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wish Patricia Albers could write as well as Mitchell could paint.

It's frustrating to read descriptions of breakthrough or outstanding paints without an image to reference; this volume should have had many more images of Mitchell's work, as where she was and who she was with had so much influence on what she painted. Albers' fact-checking is sloppy; for example,Mitchell was in the 1989 Whitney Biennial; there was no Biennial in 1990, as stated in the book. There is a lot of speculation and di
Sep 09, 2012 Louise rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, artists
It's hard to believe Joan Mitchell, that crusty, alcoholic, modernist pioneer was not just an ice skater, but a champion figure skater in her youth. There is a lot else fascinating about her beginnings such as her mother's career in poetry, her own poetry, her diving, and her enrollment at the Parker School despite her father's conservativism and racism.

Success in sports, a coveted education, marriage to a man who loved her, and family wealth that permitted her to pursue her passion were not eno
Aug 19, 2011 Carol rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Just once, I would love to read a bio of a visual artist that reads like this: "He/She was really sweet, drank only socially, didn't smoke or do drugs, and loved his/her spouse. And, he/she was a great artist." Guess not. Joan Mitchell sounds like a foul-mouthed bitch, a heavy drinker and smoker, emotionally distant and unable to form healthy relationships with men. Her one redeeming factor was her generosity to young artists. Still, the book was interesting in its depiction of how a nontraditio ...more
Jee Koh
Jun 25, 2013 Jee Koh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An informative biography, full of details about Mitchell's family background, love affairs and artistic struggles. Her desire to be "one of the boys" of the New York School. Her fear of abandonment and death. Her steadfast love of van Gogh. She painted from the memory of a landscape, until she abstracted it in the idiom of Abstract Expressionism. The writing of the biography is in places too breezy and purple for my taste. The biographer clearly admires her subject, but does not hide her flaws.
Dec 12, 2011 Kaveri rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art
Joan Mitchell was a real piece of work!
Nov 22, 2015 erica rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir-bio
Barely out of the first chapter and already hoping I make it to the end. Pretty bad writing so far- author keeps inserting "arty" analogies: describes a childhood play costume of Mitchell's as "John Singer Sargent-ish muslin;" a gala event of Mitchell's parents as "backlit as if by Degas;" "ferocious storms and watercolor-fresh clearings," etc.

I typically enjoy long, lyrical sentence structure but these are clunky and trying too hard to be descriptive with trivial detail that just comes across
Ed Smiley
Jan 08, 2012 Ed Smiley rated it it was amazing
Not everyone will "like" Joan Mitchell. A classic "difficult" personality, she struggled with the gender bias of the fifties Abstract Expressionist era to become an accomplished and successful painter. She emerges as as an amazing individual, indomitable, sexy, loud, alcoholic, vulgar, passionate, socially brutal, insecure, ambitious, fearful, moody, vindictive, devoted to her friends and lovers, and haunted by the demons of memory and emotion, which she experienced directly as color and form. T ...more
Patricia Ogden
Apr 11, 2013 Patricia Ogden rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a really fine book - I kept having to google each painting as it was discussed, and luckily, I had seen quite a few of them before reading this.

“There's something in this richness that I hate”, wrote Elinor Wylie in her poem, Puritan Sonnet. This comes to me later, after long looking and reading, when visual hunger is deeply sated, and turns away. But after all, no, I don’t think so. It’s Wylie whose pain has metamorphosed to cold stone, while Mitchell’s anxious, existential self genera
Sep 10, 2013 mim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm surprised that I liked this book. Really. The author ticked me off at times with her use of "big" words - like "antipodes" for example. I felt like she was showing off her vocabulary for her own sake. And she loaded paragraphs with names, one after the other, names. Of course, lots of them were artists that were well known though there were others that seemed so part of the art movement of the time, yet I'd never heard of them. And then there were the people I'd heard of, the well known arti ...more
Mar 05, 2015 Michael rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating biography of one of the great abstract e press ironists, along with DeKoonong, pollack...A difficult sometimes extremely unpleasant woman who struggled with the bias against women in the art world, who remained totally dedicated to her art, in fact life was her art and who struggled with her demons all her life. Found myself just wanting to sit and hold the book after I finished.
Mike Tracy
Feb 08, 2014 Mike Tracy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love her work- definitely in my top ten, but what emerges is a portrait of a thoroughly unlikeable person. I also suspect that the story of her artistic life would have been completely different had she not come from a family of means who supported her financially for many years while she established herself. The moral: the best way to be an artist is to be born wealthy. Still, she spent it well.
Dave Holcomb
Very readable, but very grim. My only real complaint, however, is the way the writer describes or refers to various pieces of artwork throughout the book, but then does not provide photos. There are only a half-dozen or so reproductions of Mitchell's art included, and none of them is all that relevant to the text.
Aug 24, 2013 Ivan rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Another test of my Frank Sinatra rule: that an artist can be mean mean mean while their art can be nice nice nice. This author only starts, and then only starts again, to engage the wonder of these paintings, and instead chooses to psychologize a seemingly indulged, lifelong child. But like the biographies of DeKooning and Pollock, I can never get enough descriptions of the Cedar Bar in the 50s, and a time when poetry and music were more entwined with the milieu of visual art than they are now.
Terri Dowell-dennis
You can tell that Patricia Albers loves her subject. This biography ebbs and flows. At one point, I thought I would likely not finish it. The tale is a brutal read, often depressing, and as I looked at Mitchell's work on line I began to feel as though this artist needed an editor and no one was quite up to taking on the task. I wish there were more illustrations in the book to accompany Albers vivid descriptions. What remains is to see some of Mitchell's paintings now.
The Book : An Online Review at The New Republic
OFTEN CLASSIFIED AS a second-generation Abstract Expressionist, Joan Mitchell owed as much to the School of Paris as she did to the New York School. A card-carrying member of the Eighth Street Club and a regular fixture at the Cedar Tavern, she considered her friend and lover Willem de Kooning her father and her Freudian analyst Edrita Fried her mother. Read more...
Mar 13, 2012 Emily rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Her art didn't interest me as much as her life. Her mother was the editor of Poetry magazine, she flirted with Carl Sandburg, and she married Barney Rosset, who ultimately founded Grove Press. Radically her own person, Mitchell was equally tough on herself and on the people she called her friends. This bio is juicy and articulate, like Mitchell herself.
Sep 20, 2012 Erin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
As a female abstract painter working today, I appreciated Patricia ALbers' in-depth portrait of Joan Mitchell's brilliant talent and frequent struggles. I have written a more in-depth review here:
Alyson Plante
Aug 03, 2013 Alyson Plante rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I always melt when I see Mitchell's paintings. Yet even as a Mitchell fan, this wasn't a smooth read for me -- a lot of picking it up and putting it down. With that said, my copy is now highlighted and dog-eared, so I'm not complaining. Will read it again, I'm sure.
Jul 10, 2011 jennifer marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
"I did lots of good drawings today, and read lots of Marx and wanted so to get in the Oldsmobile and pinch and bite and be generally irritating and fuck and then drink six cups of coffee and talk about China."
Oct 04, 2012 Randine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I did a review on another book called "The Paintings of Joan Mitchell" and the review is really meant THIS book, which is a biography of the artist. Very good!
Patty Hankins
Jul 15, 2011 Patty Hankins rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
I really enjoyed the parts of #Ladypainter that dealt directly with Joan's art - and her experiences as a woman in what is often perceived as a man's field.
Agatha Nettles
Informative for sure but for me it didn't "sing" as a biography.
Virginia Bryant
good illustration of how even those most blessed among us have hellaciously difficult lives.
Aug 06, 2011 Susan rated it really liked it

This was a good book....lots of history about the US along with the life of Joan Mitchell.
Mar 16, 2012 Cynde rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Tough woman; tough, persevering art maker.
Kimberly Martin
Dry read had
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Patricia Albers is the author of Shadows, Fire, Snow: The Life of Tina Modotti. Her articles have appeared in newspapers, art journals, and museum catalogs. She has curated many exhibitions, among them Tina Modotti and the Mexican Renaissance. She lives in Mountain View."
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