Not everyone needs to be a role model. And not every book needs to be kid-friendly. Sometimes, we just want to remember that there is life outside parenting, something more than the political rancor offered to us from our television and Facebook feeds. Sure, it would be great to escape to some remote island, a yoga retreat, or even the art museum whenever the stresses of life, politics, and parenting overwhelm us.
Enter Blue Territory: A Reflection on the Life and Art of Joan Mitchell by Robin Lippincott. For a fraction of the cost of a yoga class, about the price of a manicure (sells for $14.71 in paperback on Amazon), you can get swept away by the lyrical poeticism of Robin Lippincott’s prose as he deftly introduces you to the life and art of Joan Mitchell.
Confession: I know Robin Lippincott. He was my workshop leader one semester while I was at Spalding’s MFA program. A sweet man with a serene demeanor, the cadence of his voice adds a poetic layer to my reading of this book that perhaps others miss out on. Yet his writing shines, and even when the din around me drowns out my recollection of his voice, still the words transport me.
Another Confession: Before I got this book, I had no idea who Joan Mitchell was. Never heard of her. And on first glance (online), her abstract paintings, while pleasantly colorful and playful, meant nothing to me. Sure, I can stare at a painting and let my imagination conjure stories that I then write, but as far as what the artist intended? Sometimes even the title does me no good.
And then, along comes Blue Territory, and I feel giddy. Suddenly, I understand. No, I can’t explain every brush stroke or wax eloquently about the symbolism of the third color in the context of socio-politics of the era. But what I do have now is a collection of stories, an imaginary hologram of Joan Mitchell in her studio, projecting her feelings and life at the time, that accompanies me when I see the painting.
This is no academic exploration of art and artist. This is no class on art history. This isn’t even a traditional biography. No, it is all of these and more. Lippincott brings to life an artist and her life, makes the abstract paintings of Joan Mitchell approachable and meaningful. The writing is at once poetry, prose, biography, and short story collection. Uncategorizable. It is usually poetic, at times humorous and unflinchingly candid, granting me entrance into the mind of a talented artist consumed by her craft.
This is not a book to read to your children; her life was not G-rated and inspirational in the sense that you wish your kids to reference this book in a report for school. But the book is unapologetically loyal to the memory of the artist, and it is this honesty that makes it so compelling, so refreshing, so engaging.
Now, I just need to go find an exhibit of Joan Mitchell’s art so I can lose myself, my beautiful Blue Territory compendium in hand.