Saturday 1 April 2023

Helma Michiels / Joan Mitchell

Joan Mitchell



280 x 359 cm

oil on canvas

Museum Ludwig, Cologne, 2016



It was in New York in 2013 that I first layed eyes on a work by Joan Mitchell (Chicago 1925-Paris 1992). I did not know her and it puzzled me how on earth this was possible. Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline were her friends. The painting spoke from the depth of the paint. Oops, I first wrote, from the depth of the pain. There actually is a lot of truth in that. These brushstrokes were made of flesh and blood, anger and despair, passion and paint, disguised in gorgeous colours. There is no hesitation in the brushstrokes. No wonder they knocked me out straight away. When I read her biography Joan Mitchell, Lady painter, A Life, by Patricia Albers, she became my great friend, in heaven of course, but still. A friend for life.


Like a kind of pilgrimage, I went to see the place where she had lived. On my way home from Spain, where I work during many months each year, I stopped at Vétheuil, a sleepy little town near Paris, strangled by the river Seine. A house on a hill, "La Tour", with a cemetary as the quiet neighbour. It showed me once again that you can make the greatest work anywhere. Drive and dedication are more important. You need to "keep the paint flying" as she would say. I am really grateful that she did dedicate her life to painting. We need this work that speaks for itself. I do.


In 2016, Joan made me visit Museum Ludwig in Cologne where she was honored in a great retrospective. Especially her last works, made with the last strength from her tormented body, made a huge impression. These paintings are immensely large and strong. They speak to me. Make me respond. As a painter. As a person, as a woman. I feel them. She had to prove herself all her life. Because she was a woman. Her last work Merci from 1992 moved me to tears. And I realised, with regret, that I could have known her, if only I had discovered her sooner. Being in a private collection together, is the closest I will ever get. A privilege, I must admit.


2023 Took me to Paris, where she was presented by Fondation Luis Vuitton in combination with late Monets. A daring combination, knowing that she hated to be connected to Monet. But any opportunity to see her work, is a good one.


Helma Michiels, 2023

Helma Michiels (NL)


120 x 180 cm

oil on canvas