Perch and Twirl

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  • Provenance

    Xavier Fourcade, Inc., New York
    Robert Cochran, Oklahoma City (acquired from the above in 1988)
    Manny Silverman Gallery, Los Angeles (acquired from the above in 2001)
    Private Collection, USA
    Edward Tyler Nahem Gallery, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2006

  • Exhibited

    Indianapolis Museum of Art; Cincinnati, Contemporary Arts Center and Taft Museum, Painting and Sculpture Today, 22 May – 14 July 1974
    New York, Xavier Fourcade, Inc., Large-Scale Paintings/Small Scale Sculpture, 18 April - 3 June 1978
    San Francisco, Gallery Paule Anglim, Joan Mitchell, 13 November – 22 December 1979
    New York, Xavier Fourcade, Inc., Paintings: de Kooning, Heizer, Mitchell, Murphy, Palermo, Twombly, Smith, 19 June – 19 September 1987

  • Literature

    Thomas Albright, 'The Mild-Mannered Painter', San Francisco Chronicle, 24 November 1979, p. 35
    Frank Cebulski, 'Joan Mitchell's Projective Vision', Artweek, 15 December 1979, p. 6

  • Catalogue Essay

    Joan Mitchell’s paintings are like visual transcriptions of nature. They show the artist’s ongoing fascination with landscape and natural forces, albeit using a distinctly singular abstract language. Writing about her works at this time, the artist remarks ‘light is something very special. It has nothing to do with white. Either you see it or you don’t’ (Joan Mitchell, quoted in, The Paintings of Joan Mitchell, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of Art, New York; Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham; Modern Art Museum, Fort Worth; Phillips Collection, Washington, 2002, p. 35); in this perspective, paintings like Perch and Twirl take on a solar dimension.

    Executed in 1973, Perch and Twirl nonetheless contains within its margins a number of dialectical oscillations. It is at once structured and free-flowing, joyful and solemn, spatially restricted and expansive. Bisected at the middle, dispersing on both sides bright blocks of purple, green, and orange, the painting’s inherent neatness breaks at the emergence of untamed drips, visibly paving their own way at the bottom-left margin of the canvas. Though abstract, Perch and Twirl represents precisely what its title announces: a position and a movement, one static, one vibrant. The top half of the painting illustrates the stillness of the former constitutive term –tempered blocks keeping their peace– while frenetic gestures below signal a swirving dance, an incessant twirl.

    Friends of the artist observed a similar pattern within Mitchell herself. The American artist’s literary background –her mother was a poet, her husband an editor, her close friend was Frank O’Hara– clashes with her impulsive nature, her tendency to swear, her internal agitation. Mitchell, like her paintings, was gracefulness surrounded by rage, or rage enveloped by gracefulness.

    With such meditations, an artist like Carol Rama comes to mind. Rama, born in Turin just a few years before Mitchell, equally used light tones and smooth lines to convey turmoil. Like a flame incarnate, the Italian-artist used to say ‘It’s mainly anger inside of me’ – an exclamation reminiscent of Mitchell’s bold gesture, when, labeled a woman-artist at a dinner party, she interrupted the conversation with a swift exit. Yet while Mitchell deplored forced dichotomies and generously expressed the subjects of her discontent, she used her ‘troubled fury […] as if it were nothing but a tool’ (Peter Schjeldahl, ‘Tough Love: Resurrecting Joan Mitchell’, The New Yorker, July 2002, online). The remainder of her energy –the more significant part– flowed with ease and materialised with delicacy.

    Perch and Twirl, as a standalone painting, came immediately after the artist’s first major solo exhibition at the Everson Museum of Art entitled My Five Years in the Country, 1972, and shortly before a smaller eponymous show at the Whitney in 1974. The painting brims with traits that are characteristic of Mitchell’s oeuvre, and shines with the confidence she happily acquired around those years, as an already widely celebrated artist. One of the few female artists to achieve such recognition at this stage in her own lifetime, Mitchell furthermore displayed her works in exhibitions alongside her male counterparts – Pollock, de Kooning, Hoffman – as early as 1951, at the occasion of the New Gallery’s Ninth Street Show.

    Dubbed a ‘second-generation Abstract Expressionist’, further formal comparisons could be made between Mitchell’s work and that of peers associated with the post-war movement. Though her approach to abstractness was often evocative of emotional concepts and thus less conceptually ‘flat’, Mitchell acknowledged the influence of artists such as Willem de Kooning, whose gestural technique often produced shapes of sensual nature. The Dutch artist’s 1955 painting Interchange, for instance, executed in the early days of Abstract Expressionism, boasts warm, flesh-like colours, awoken now and then with bright hues of yellow and blue. Like Mitchell’s Perch and Twirl, de Kooning’s Interchange is readily structured, intersected with thin black lines, balancing cautious composition with free movement by allowing more delicate pink pigments to take over the majority of the canvas’s surface.

    The late 1960s and early 1970s were moreover a high point for Mitchell, since she then created her most celebrated and valuable work. Evolving from the darker palette she deployed in the mid-1960s, this period was marked by vivid energy and exuberant colour, including seminal paintings such as Salut Sally, 1970, Wet Orange, 1971 (Carnegie Museum of Art) and Blue Territory, 1972 (Albright-Knox Art Gallery). As expressed by Jane Livingston, the use of slab-like blocks of colour ‘would [have been] almost unimaginable without (Hans) Hofmann’s precedent, yet Mitchell managed to create her own perfectly dinstinctive adaptation. Blocks of colour operate within a fieldlike matrix, creating tensions between figure-ground opposition on the one hand and the dense, flat space of Abstract Expressionism on the other’ (Jane Livingston, The Paintings of Joan Mitchell, Whitney Museum of Art, New York; Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham; Modern Art Museum, Fort Worth; Phillips Collection, Washington, 2002, p. 35).

    Coming to market at a moment marked by acute resurgence of interest – a phenomenon drawing from the growing consensus that Mitchell’s paintings are on a par with her better known counterparts Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and her friends Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline – Perch and Twirl is an exceptional painting defined by one of the artist’s most fascinating periods. It furthermore coincides with a number of major international exhibitions highlighting her work, including a retrospective at the Kunsthaus Bregenz (2015), Mitchell/Riopelle: Nothing in Moderation at the Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec (2017) and The Water Lilies: the American Abstract Art and the Last Monet, Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris (2018). There will be a major retrospective in 2020, co-organised by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Baltimore Museum of Art, which will furthermore travel to the Solomon K. Guggenheim Museum in New York.

    Describing her own painting process as ‘an organism that turns in space’ (Cora Cohen and Betsy Sussler, ‘Joan Mitchell’, BOMB, 17, 1986), Mitchell’s self-sufficient canvases Perch and Twirl in turn, through the use of most vivacious strokes and atmospheric colour. Brimming with unique pictorial and emotional force, Perch and Twirl works like a universe of its own, merging poetry, emotion and mature artistic skill.

13

Property of an Important Private Collector

Perch and Twirl

signed 'Joan Mitchell' lower right
oil on canvas
258.4 x 179.7 cm (101 3/4 x 70 3/4 in.)
Painted in 1973.

Estimate
£1,500,000 - 2,500,000 

sold for £3,129,000

Contact Specialist
Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061 hhighley@phillips.com

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 5 October 2018