Reflections on – Bedford II

Joan Mitchell

Bedford II,1981

Tyler Graphics Ltd, Bedford Village NY

Joan Mitchell’s lithograph Bedford II (1981) is a dense flurry of scribbled lines. Over and over again, sharp marks are made with layers of colour, softening as they form a mass that fills the sheet.  

Mitchell came to work at Tyler Graphics, Bedford Village, New York, in 1981. Ken Tyler found her to be bright; that ‘when she wasn’t being charming and sweet waxing about poetry, jazz or art, she … [took on the role] of a tough-talking, hard-drinking soldier type with an irreverent tongue’.[1]  

The archival worksheet for Bedford II lists its print runs:

  1. transparent magenta;
  2. ultramarine blue;
  3. ultramarine blue;
  4. ultramarine blue;
  5. yellow-green;
  6. magenta;
  7. dark magenta;
  8. black.

Bedford II is mostly composed of layers of blue, and Tyler remembers discussing blue in ‘great detail’ as they worked together.[2]

Tyler remembers Mitchell as bright.

In her book Tender Buttons, Gertrude Stein observes that ‘every bit of blue is precocious’.[3]

This Stein quote is one of the many references gathered by Maggie Nelson for Bluets, a collection of fragmentary prose poems on blue, titled after Nelson’s favourite painting – full circle – Joan Mitchell’s Les Bluets (1973, Centre Pompidou).

Like Nelson, who notices “the blue things I treasure are…surprises in the landscape,”[4] Mitchell was adamant her work was not figurative but experiential, an evocation of her surroundings. The artist stated: ‘I’m not involved with ‘isms’ or what’s a la mode…I’m very old fashioned, but not reactionary. My paintings aren’t about art issues. They’re about a feeling that comes to me from the outside, from landscape’.[5]

Joan Mitchell and Ken Tyler at the Tyler Graphics artist studio, Bedford Village, 1992. 
Photo: Jim McHugh
Joan Mitchell and Ken Tyler at the Tyler Graphics artist studio, Bedford Village, 1992. Photo: Jim McHugh

Bedford II is not just very blue. It is also very green. Colour was important to Mitchell. Art historian and biographer Patricia Albers notes the artist had various forms of synaesthesia – personality-colour; musical sound-colour.[6] Through Mitchell’s eyes, both people and music evoked specific colours. Letters also induced different hues, as did words.[7] Emotions each had their own, too – ‘to Mitchell, hope was yellow, and loneliness “dark green and clingy”’.[8] Not only was the artist a synesthete, but she also had an eidetic memory: ‘the ability to remember things in exact detail, as if you can seem them in your mind’.[9] Knowing this, Mitchell’s claim that her work was about feelings and landscapes that ‘came to her’ is bestowed an extra intensity, as we try to imagine a mind constantly filled with colour and image.

Tyler states: ‘If she [Joan] saw the landscape, she recorded it, thought about it…It was like making poetry, right? She probably had fifteen different ways of expressing that in her mind. When she went to paint that or draw that, those fifteen different ways became thirty. By the time she was done, they became ninety… [Her work] came from a catalogue of visuals that Joan had that no one else had’.[10]

The vibrancy, colour, and density of Bedford II are all the result of this inimitable visual catalogue. The print is a continuation of Mitchell’s use of the abstract gestural mark, and represents the inextricable relationship in her practice between colour, feeling, and landscape. Transparent magenta; ultramarine blue; ultramarine blue; ultramarine blue; yellow-green; magenta; dark magenta; black; Bedford; and working with Ken.

-Ella Morrison

Assistant Curator, Kenneth Tyler Collection


[1] Jane Kinsman, Workshop: The Kenneth Tyler Collection, Canberra: National Gallery of Australia, 2015, p 147.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Maggie Nelson, Bluets, Seattle: Wave Books, 2009, p 42.

[4] Ibid, p 25.

[5] Marcia Tucker, Joan Mitchell, New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, p 6.

[6] Patricia Albers, Joan Mitchell: Painting as Cathedral [catalogue essay for Synesthesia: Art and the Mind], McMaster Museum of Art, Ontario, 2008.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Cambridge Dictionary [online], ‘Eidetic’, 2019, https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/eidetic

[10] Kenneth E. Tyler interviewed by Patricia Albers, 7 January 2003. Patricia Albers, Joan Mitchell: Painting as Cathedral [catalogue essay for Synesthesia: Art and the Mind], McMaster Museum of Art, Ontario, 2008.

4 comments

  1. LG

    Nice job writing this up. I was working at Tyler Graphics in 1981 and worked with Mitchell and Tyler many late nights. I never really heard her talk about “art isms” much. She preferred to talk about art people and had lots to say on that subject.. She did her work daily at the shop usually starting between noon and 2pm. One time I watched her work on an aluminum plate with a large tusche brush and I was amazed how slowly and thoughtfully she worked. She was not aware that I was watching. She would like to start sipping Dewars in the late afternoon. She smoked constantly and had a very lyrical and charasmatic way of speaking. She was funny and brought you in. I liked her very much but it was exhausting working with her bc she preferred working all night long.

    • tylercollection

      Thanks for the reflection Lindsay! It’s interesting to see how some artists work from the ‘-isms’ and others work intuitively. Joan’s work appears to be very energetic so it’s very interesting to note that she worked slowly and thoughtfully on the aluminium plates.
      -David

      • LG

        After a few Dewar’s and when she was done working for the night – she would go into what I called her “shrink” mode and would berate you big time. Or flatter you big time and be funny. Sometimes this was not so fun but I took it in stride and only found myself in tears a few times.

  2. LG

    Re the pace of JMs working style. Agreed. I thought the same thing and was amazed seeing how slow and thoughtful she was. I kind of assumed she would work fast with lots of arm flaying and flair. Not so.

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