Joan Mitchell. Ladybug. 1957

Joan Mitchell Ladybug 1957

  • MoMA, Floor 4, 405 The David Geffen Galleries

Mitchell’s Ladybug presents an apparently spontaneous—but in fact carefully plotted—accumulation of brushstrokes. Staccato arcs and dashes of marigold, mauve, dark berry, and brown seem to leap off the canvas, while excess pigment dribbles downward. Colors abut one another, overlap, and mix on the picture’s surface, dense paint merging with liquid drips, and flatness with relief. The chromatic web appears to hover over an empty ground, which is actually composed of several layers of white paint.

In 1957, the year in which she made Ladybug, Mitchell said of her process, “The freedom in my work is quite controlled.” She meticulously applied each color, attentive to the relationships between them and to the weight of each brushstroke. In this painting and others of this period, Mitchell, unlike many of her Abstract Expressionist contemporaries, rejected an allover compositional approach, preferring a balance of figure and ground—even in a fully abstract image.

Throughout her long career, Mitchell referred to the matter of her paintings as “feelings,” or memories of distinct times and places, the uneven flow of which she fixed in paint. Mitchell was thirty-two and living in New York when she painted Ladybug. Here, as in her other works, she aimed not to describe nature, but (as she put it) “to paint what it leaves me with.”

Publication excerpt from From MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)

In Ladybug, Mitchell abuts pure colors with colors that mix on the canvas, dense paint with liquid drips, flatness with relief. White patches of pigment aerate the energized fields of color. Although Mitchell was considered one of the principal figures of the second generation of Abstract Expressionists that emerged in the mid-1950s, she also challenged the conventional wisdom of the New York School. While her paintings are abstract, their starting point was nature, which she set out not to describe but "to paint what it leaves me with."

Gallery label from Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction, April 19 - August 13, 2017.
Medium
Oil on canvas
Dimensions
6' 5 7/8" x 9' (197.9 x 274 cm)
Credit
Purchase
Object number
385.1961
Copyright
© Estate of Joan Mitchell
Department
Painting and Sculpture

Installation views

MoMA collaborated with Google Arts & Culture Lab on a project using machine learning to identify artworks in installation photos.

If you notice an error, please contact us at digital@moma.org.

If you would like to reproduce an image of a work of art in MoMA’s collection, or an image of a MoMA publication or archival material (including installation views, checklists, and press releases), please contact Art Resource (publication in North America) or Scala Archives (publication in all other geographic locations).

All requests to license audio or video footage produced by MoMA should be addressed to Scala Archives at firenze@scalarchives.com. Motion picture film stills or motion picture footage from films in MoMA's Film Collection cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. For licensing motion picture film footage it is advised to apply directly to the copyright holders. For access to motion picture film stills please contact the Film Study Center. More information is also available about the film collection and the Circulating Film and Video Library.

If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication or moma.org, please email text_permissions@moma.org. If you would like to publish text from MoMA’s archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to archives@moma.org.

This record is a work in progress. If you have additional information or spotted an error, please send feedback to digital@moma.org.