Radiant light, gestural sensuality, and rich pigments come together to create Joan Mitchell's 1970 masterpiece Salut Sally. The present work's success can be attributed to a three decade evolution of a career and a culmination of effects and techniques by an artist who devoted all of her creative soul to the portrayal of landscapes. Mitchell did not paint directly from nature; instead she preferred to paint from memories and the feelings evoked from landscapes. Although she was deeply influenced and respected by the Abstract Expressionists, Mitchell forged her own path apart from any particular movement. In New York's macho art world of the 1940's and 1950's Mitchell was in the minority, absenting herself from this world by moving to Paris and splitting her time between the two continents. She would later permanently move to Vétheuil, the small village of Monet's famous residence Giverny. Personal struggles and tragedies had great influence on her paintings of the 1960s and her move to Vétheuil brought about a brighter and more ordered nature to her compositions.
Mitchell struggled throughout her life with a deep sense of isolation and a fear of death. In the mid 1960s her compositions were characterized by a tighter central cloud of brushstrokes that evolved into a more ordered and stabilized composition reflective of the new found independence and structure in her life. The paintings of the 1960s, a difficult time in Mitchell's personal life, have an underlying anger and vulnerability as well as "a kind of painful, shifting dialectic between chaos and order." (Klaus Kertess, Joan Mitchell, New York, 1997, p. 18) At the most conflicted point in her life Mitchell had to look to painting to bring her out of darkness.
Mitchell planted her favorite flower, sunflowers, in her garden at Vétheuil. Sunflowers were also the subject of one of her favorite painting since childhood, Van Gogh's Sunflowers. Salut Sally arrives just a year after Joan Mitchell's celebrated Sunflower paintings that the artist executed shortly after her move to the bucolic village of Vétheuil. These paintings all share a dazzling palette of intense yellow, green, blue, red, and orange. Mitchell did not associate meaning with colors, however, it is abundantly clear that yellow had positive connotations for the artist. Mitchell's new surroundings proved to be further inspiration for the artist to realize in paint what was objectified in nature. Organic, burgeoning and vital, her paintings mimic the process of nature itself.
Salut Sally, a painting titled to honor Mitchell's sister, has more pronounced rectangular accumulations of paint and plays with contrasting color planes. There is bold splattering of quick brushstrokes, a mastery of both drip technique and use of palette knife all controlled by the order of the thinly painted rectilinear panels. The incorporation of white with the contrasting warm and cool colors is particularly effective in the present work. Mitchell's career has strong consistency as her works evolved into painterly and tight compositions. She was not particularly concerned with heavily balanced compositions as evidenced in Salut Sally with its weighted upper right corner giving the illusion that the painting is coming towards the viewer. The strong colors in the upper right quadrant do not overpower the paler hues and white areas of the painting but rather enhance them as their own individual entity. Klaus Kertess notes, "the constant in Mitchell's working was her open commitment to beauty and deep love of the physical acts of painting. Whether materializing joyous memories or painful ones, or the ambiguous shades in between, the love of beauty and of painting remained constant. So, too, did the visceral physicality and the visible openness of structure that so directly, and vulnerably, sought to ravish the viewer's eye, drawing it into complicity with the profundities that exacerbated the paintings surface." (Ibid., p. 41)
Mitchell considered herself a traditional painter with regards to her influences and concern with landscape, yet her approach to painting is anything but ordinary. Unlike Abstract Expressionists, Mitchell did not consider herself an action painter: as she stated, "I spend a lot of time looking at the work. I paint from a distance. I decide what I'm going to do from a distance. The freedom in my work is quite controlled; I don't close my eyes and hope for the best." (Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Joan Mitchell, 1974, p. 8) Salut Sally, 1970 appeared in Mitchell's 1972 solo museum exhibition at the Everson Museum in Syracuse entitled My Five Years in the Country. This incredible work from the artist's oeuvre has an energetic and vulnerable elegance and is, as Carter Ratcliffe states, "a calm celebration of light." (Judith E. Bernstock, Joan Mitchell, New York, 1988, p.97).
Oil on canvas
Syracuse, Everson Museum of Art; New York, Martha Jackson Gallery, My Five Years in the Country, March - June 1972, p. 16, illustrated
Pittsburgh, Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute; Toledo, Toledo Museum of Art; Kansas City, William Rockhill Nelson Gallery; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Art Center; Austin, University Art Museum, University of Texas, Fresh Air School: Exhibition of Paintings. Sam Francis, Joan Mitchell, Walasse Ting, April 1972 - January 1973, cat. no. 22, n.p., illustrated
Santa Barbara, The Art Galleries, University of California, 5 American Painters: recent work, January - February 1974, cat. no. 10, p. 17, illustrated
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, The Paintings of Joan Mitchell, March - May 1974, p. 10, illustrated
Paris, ARC, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Joan Mitchell: Choix de Peintures, 1970 - 1982, 1982, n.p., illustrated in color
Valencia, IVAM Centre Julio González, Joan Mitchell, September - December 1997, p. 57, illustrated in color
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Birmingham, Birmingham Museum of Art; Fort Worth, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth; Washington D.C., The Phillips Collection, The Paintings of Joan Mitchell, June 2002 - May 2004, pl. 33, p. 144, illustrated in color
112 x 79 in. 284.5 x 200.7 cm.
Judith E. Bernstock, Joan Mitchell, New York, 1988, p. 96, illustrated in color
Michael Waldberg, Joan Mitchell, Paris, 1992, p. 101, illustrated in color
Jean Fournier, Paris
Collection Jean Fournier et Jean-Marie Bonnet, Paris