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Best Books of the Year So Far
Looking for something great to read? Browse our editors' picks for 2015's Best Books of the Year So Far in fiction, nonfiction, mysteries, children's books, and much more.
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"Patricia Albers has written a book about Mitchell that I cannot imagine will ever be improved upon, so graceful and incisive is her account of the artist's hellbent life and lyric art." (New York Times)
"Like Mitchell's vast canvases, Albers's impressive book ought to be experienced in the morning, 'for it can animate the entire day.'" (New Yorker)
"No complete account of Mitchell's life could be pleasant. Albers...doesn't flinch. Her thoroughly researched book details Mitchell's alcoholism, depression, sexual exploits, foul-mouthed arguments, violent outbursts and general rudeness. Angry artists aren't exactly rare, but Mitchell is surely in the hall of champions." (Los Angeles Times)
"Electrifying. . .Patricia Albers emulates Mitchell’s painterly mission to conjoin "accuracy and intensity" in this transfixing and justly revealing portrait." —Booklist (starred)
"Patricia Albers vividly chronicles the artist’s journey from her wealthy upbringing in Chicago to her defiant student days at Smith College, and as a young painter at the Art Institute of Chicago. . . Vibrantly written and carefully researched. . . Albers constructs a fluid, energetic narrative of Mitchell’s complicated life and work." —Publishers Weekly
About the Author
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, California.
Patricia Albers is the author of Shadows, Fire, Snow: The Life of Tina Modotti, selected as one of the Library Journal's Best Books of 1999, and Joan Mitchell, Lady Painter: A Life, one of Booklist's ten best biographies of 2011. A resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, she is currently working on a biography of Budapest-born photographer André Kertész.
What a mess she made of her life: a brilliant, ambitious, hardworking painter who poisoned herself with booze, tirades, jealousy, awful taste in men, infidelities, and stupid professional mishaps. It's all there in this bio, a whole lifetime of it, and it's painful to read. But there's no question she was one of our greatest painters. I think that's now generally acknowledged - she's up there with Pollack and Warhol even if she lacks their celebrity. And her work, though abstract, is autobiographical: her titles typically make reference to the people and places and dogs she loved. That's why I read the bio, to get an idea of where these gorgeous paintings were coming from. I read Albers' bio with the monograph from her 2002 Whitney retrospective alongside, seeking insight into the paintings, and put to that use, the bio has good points and bad. Albers is very good on Mitchell's influences - music, art, landscape - it's nice to know exactly what music Mitchell listened to as she worked on a painting. And she is insightful about Mitchell's eidetic memory and certain aspects of her perceptive faculties that synthesized color and concept and sound. But Albers seems a little out of her depth when it comes to the formal and technical aspects of painting. When she describes Mitchell's work she tends to be brief and to swoon and rely on clichés of art appreciation. Avoiding critical discussion of Mitchell's art, Albers returns us yet again to the ugly soap opera of her life. Still and all, I think this biography is fair, and I finished it with a better, sadder sense of who this wonderful painter was.
Last year I read the big DeKooning biography and the similarities of their lives is inescapable. Both painted big,bold expressive canvases and both were in NY in the 1950s and 60s. Both mingled at the Cedar bar with other artists, musicians, poets and writers of the era. Both drank much, much too much but still managed to create sublime paintings and have successful careers. And how many more of us recognize the name Willem DeKooning and saw his work in their art history texts then know the name Joan Mitchell? I was fortunate to see the big Mitchell retrospective at the Whitney in 2002. I went with a friend who is not big on contemporary art. We both were absolutely blown away by the sheer power and beauty of her work. I am a generation younger than Joan Mitchell,and a painter who has worked in the art world since the 1970s. I certainly knew who Joan Mitchell was and had seen her work occasionally at museums or exhibits.I think I, like many other accepted the generally held description of her as a "second generation abstract expressionist" which clearly meant that she was 2nd tier. In the 70s and 80s with the growth of the feminist movement in art her work was "rediscovered" as museums sought to include women artists in exhibits and collections. Joan was certainly uneasy with this, as the author describes in the book. This is one of the best written biographies of an artist I have read. It reads like a novel, yet it is carefully documented and footnoted. I might quibble that the author often relied on one source who may have been biased, in some of her facts, but the strength of the book is its power in describing Joan life and her times. I was lucky to have the catalog from the exhibit so i could see many of the paintings.Read more ›
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As a fan of JM's paintings,it was fun to read the soap-opera version of her bio. She was definitely a head case. Could she have been even better if she wasn't so conflicted and alcoholic. Her versions of the substance of her paintings are all over the place.
The author did great research and provided source material. There probably were a lot of JM's acquaintences who were eager to give their perception or anecdotes of what happened. It's not easy or fun being around an alcoholic in my experience.
Things that annoyed me about the book were: 1. Extensive description of certain paintings which are not shown in the book (or even in the Livingston book). 2. The painting which are shown don't have any size listed. 3. Numerous events are described with a month and day date but no year; e.g., Franz Klines death.
Other things: 1. It's interesting that I or my painter friends have never heard of Jean-Paul Riopelle (JM's partner for several years) as Canada's most famous artist. I subscribe to Art Forum and read Art News and surf the web, and have never come across his name, until now. I like some of his paintings I found on the internet; especially one that is Joan-Mitchell like. I don't think they allow links here, but it's a layered abstract with black, viney leaves on top of yellow viney leaves with a white background (coloured ink on paper, 18 x 24~.). It's at artnet.com . One would think that he would get some mention in the U.S. media. 2. With the artworld having expanded out geographically from NYC, do artists have fraternal or intimate connections now as JM and her milieu did? 3. The term abstract impressionism certainly applies in JM's later paintings at La Tour in Vetheuil. I hadn't thought of them in that way before. --That's all for now.