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  • Writer's pictureRae Turpin

On Joan Mitchell & layering: Materiality, temporality & embodied intra-actions

“Painting is a means of feeling living” - Joan Mitchell

I’ve been spending more time developing my artistic practice with a whole new type of situatedness. An embodiment in both body and place, but also in theory. Along the way I have found myself partnering closely with Joan Mitchell’s work. A continuous process of ebbing and flowing to/from her paintings and process. Whilst her paintings might speak for themselves in their bold, embodied mark making on such large scales it must surely have been an intense bodily working with the materials and space she encountered, knowing her process only deepens the experience. Many of her paintings are landscapes, formulated from memories – or more specifically, memories of feelings. “I want to paint the feeling of a space” she said. Working from recollections provided her with the initial impulse of a place. Rather than attempting to represent its form, Mitchell took a memory as a starting point, and worked iteratively, intuitively and imaginatively to evoke (and exhale) emotion.

I’ve found myself drawn to painters like Mitchell for the ways in which they form deeply embodied allegiances with their bodies, materials, and place. But more than any of this, I have been sitting with thoughts of how these work together to form deep layerings. My research resides within feminist new materialist thought, and particularly ontologies of entanglement. This involves a rigorous challenge, and (re)construction, of positivist humanism and ideas of isolatable, categorizable, “things”. In particular, I am interested in furthering understandings not only of the spatial breadth of entanglements, but their temporal depths. In Deleuzian contracted time, we speak of the ways in which the past and future unite to co-constitute the present moment as a continuous happening/mattering. And, more broadly, feminist new materialisms focus our attention on the ways in which our realities are richly and diversely layered by vast webs of entanglements. Mitchell’s paintings, in their seemingly arbitrary, chaotic threads and layered intra-weavings, evoke this material depth in a real visceral embodiment. They not only convey the entangled materiality of mattering, but also evoke subjective lived experience and emotions as affective and generative agents in their own rights.

In the following drawings-paintings-thinkings, I have taken my kinship with Joan to step into embodied practice of these understandings. Situated with/in Millers Pond nature reserve after the scorching sun of the recent heat wave has blighted the grassland area, they serve as walk throughs of my intra-active encounters with a particular space-time, vegetal and animal others, the artistic mediums and tools, my body, and the climate of my discursive meanderings.

“If we opened people, we’d find landscapes” - Agnes Varda
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