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’.
The archival worksheet for Bedford II lists its print runs:
- transparent magenta;
- ultramarine blue;
- ultramarine blue;
- ultramarine blue;
- dark magenta;
Bedford II is mostly composed of layers of blue, and Tyler remembers discussing blue in ‘great detail’ as they worked together.
Tyler remembers Mitchell as bright.
In her book Tender Buttons, Gertrude Stein observes that ‘every bit of blue is precocious’.
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,” 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’.
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. Through Mitchell’s eyes, both people and music evoked specific colours. Letters also induced different hues, as did words. Emotions each had their own, too – ‘to Mitchell, hope was yellow, and loneliness “dark green and clingy”’. 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’. 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’.
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.
Assistant Curator, Kenneth Tyler Collection
 Jane Kinsman, Workshop: The Kenneth Tyler Collection, Canberra: National Gallery of Australia, 2015, p 147.
 Maggie Nelson, Bluets, Seattle: Wave Books, 2009, p 42.
 Ibid, p 25.
 Marcia Tucker, Joan Mitchell, New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, p 6.
 Patricia Albers, Joan Mitchell: Painting as Cathedral [catalogue essay for Synesthesia: Art and the Mind], McMaster Museum of Art, Ontario, 2008.
 Cambridge Dictionary [online], ‘Eidetic’, 2019, https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/eidetic
 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.