ABOUT THE ART
This exhibition encourages visitors to compare and contrast major paintings by Mitchell and Riopelle in order to show how their relationship impacted their respective techniques and styles during the twenty-four years they were together.
Piano mécanique (1958) and Landing (1958)
In Piano mécanique, Mitchell – like Riopelle in Landing – uses a canvas with a horizontal format. Rather than creating a centralized composition, she disperses her vigorous strokes and dabs across its broad expanse. In Landing, Riopelle, while also working in an all-over manner, creates a denser surface, squeezing paint directly from the tube onto the canvas and then manipulating it with palette knives and trowels.
Joan Mitchell, Piano mécanique, 1958. Oil on canvas, 198.1 × 325.1 cm. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Gift of Addie and Sidney Yates (1996.142.1) © Estate of Joan Mitchell Photo: National Gallery of Art
Jean Paul Riopelle, Landing, 1958. Oil on canvas, 200 × 375 cm. Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. Purchase (A 68 56 P 1) © Estate of Jean Paul Riopelle / SODRAC (2018) Photo: Richard-Max Tremblay
Large Triptych (1964) and Girolata (1964)
Riopelle’s massive Large Triptych and Mitchell’s monumental Girolata also reveal on overlapping of styles. Both works have dark areas of colour in their outer panels that are at first glance the paintings’ most prominent visual elements. They eventually fade away, however, enabling the lighter panels at the works’ centres to breathe and expand, creating an immersive effect for viewers.
Joan Mitchell, Girolata, 1964. Oil on canvas, 258.4 × 481.7 cm (triptych). Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. Gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn, 1966 (66.3581) © Estate of Joan Mitchell. Photo: HMSG, Smithsonian
Jean Paul Riopelle, Large Triptych, 1964. Oil on canvas, 276.4 × 643.7 cm. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. Gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn, 1966 (66.4268) © Estate of Jean Paul Riopelle / SODRAC (2018). Photo: HMSG, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, Cathy Carver
Un jardin pour Audrey (1974) and Micmac (1975)
Mitchell and Riopelle had different but fundamentally similar approaches to making two-panel paintings in the 1970s.
Riopelle took one of the panels of his diptych, Micmac, and transferred its image onto a second, blank canvas, where it appears in reverse. He then reworked both panels extensively, enabling each to appear distinct, although they are, in fact, reflections of one another. Micmac refers to the Mi’kmaq people, an Indigenous group of the Gaspé Peninsula and the Atlantic provinces. In French this work also means confusion and disorder. Playing on this idea, Riopelle explores how two visually different but related panels can both complement and conflict with one another when they are made into one whole.
Mitchell dedicated her diptych to her friend Audrey Hess, who had recently died. Each panel of Un jardin pour Audrey offers a different vision of a heavenly garden. On the left, we are presented with the quivering light and variegated brush strokes one would find in a painting by the French Impressionist Claude Monet (1840-1926). On the right, we see a bold and exuberant landscape that might have been inspired by the famous French colourist Henri Matisse (1869-1954). Similar to Riopelle’s diptych, the panels of Mitchell’s work are independent entities that when combined form an unmistakable unity.
Joan Mitchell, Un jardin pour Audrey, 1974. Oil on canvas. 260 x 360.5 cm (diptych). Private collection, Paris. © Estate of Joan Mitchell.
Jean Paul Riopelle, Micmac, 1975, Oil on canvas. 300 × 400 cm (diptych). Collection Sylvie Blatazart-Eon, Paris. © Estate of Jean Paul Riopelle / SODRAC (2018).