JOAN MITCHELL’S “WHITE TERRITORY” (1970-1971): NATURE AND PAINTING IN THE EMERGING DIGITAL AGE
In 1968, using an inheritance from her mother, painter Joan Mitchell (1925-1992) bought a property in Vétheuil, France, where she would live for the rest of her life. There, she created vibrant abstract paintings that combined dripping washes and globular brushwork on white backgrounds, but their titles often referenced foliage, land, and territories. One such work, "White Territory," painted from 1970 to 1971, layered these two types of brushwork through a time-consuming studio practice. Existing scholarship on Mitchell terms her a “Second Generation Abstract Expressionist” and suggests her work pays homage to the formative movement. Rather than read Mitchell’s "White Territory" as belated Abstract Expressionism, my thesis examines the painting’s relationship to the historic home in which it was made. From 1878 to 1881, Monet had owned the Vétheuil property that Mitchell bought almost one hundred years later. There, he painted landscapes of Vétheuil’s cathedral, the river Seine, and his lush garden, capturing the appearance of the countryside and its changing weather patterns. Mitchell’s paintings at Vétheuil evacuated mimetic references to the home and the town and, instead, represented the dynamism of nature itself. Through her slow, calculated process of combining and layering different types of brushwork, in works like "White Territory," Mitchell depicted nature as a force one encounters rather than a site to behold. Her paintings thus reimagined the idea of landscape and re-asserted the significance of nature and painting in the emerging digital age.
NotesDegree Awarded: M.A. Art. American University
Degree grantorAmerican University. Department of Art