Joan Mitchell’s painting Cous Cous pulses with energy. Imagine the artist using her whole body to propel her arm and hand holding a brush loaded with paint across this canvas, outpouring emotion onto the surface with each move. Slashes, broad strokes, drips, spatters, and smears of color straight from the tube suggest an unmediated visceral action. Control and balance however were central to the artist’s approach to painting and provided structure to Mitchell’s compositions. Her process is reminiscent of the structured improvisation of the jazz musicians Mitchell listened to and admired.
In Cous Cous notice the relationships between the cool and warm colors, and the dense and loose passages of paint. Mitchell used a thick application of paint in some areas, contrasted with the exposure of raw canvas in others. As an abstract-expressionist painter Mitchell developed her work with a disregard for recognizable subject matter, embracing an expressive, uninhibited approach to mark making.
As you look at Cous Cous imagine the various types of sensory information that might have influenced the creation of this painting. Mitchell experienced music, feelings, and shapes as colors. For example, she perceived music notes as swirling with color and the shape of the letter “A” as the color green. This way of perceiving the world, called synesthesia, was “paramount [in her work] and very, very present for her”.