Madison Fred Mitchell

Born 1923

April 2004 excerpt from Art in America magazine review of Fred Mitchell solo exhibition at David Findlay Jr. Gallery, New York City by critic Jonathan Goodman.

Fred Mitchell at David Findlay Jr.:

The art of Fred Mitchell is very much a part of the New York School; however, as this show of his work from the 1940s to the 1960s made clear Mitchell has always developed a feeling for his surroundings wherever he has lived. In one of the stronger works in the show On Barren Ground (1941) he portrays the weathered buildings surrounding his neighbors in the town of his birth, Meridian, Miss. While the realism and gothic tone of the painting do not prefigure the joyously open abstractions Mitchell went on to paint in later life, the wish to capture the spirit of a particular place is a constant for the artist, linking early work to late. In Parade (1947), he depicts dour-faced musicians playing instruments raised up toward the light. At once sad and exuberant, this painting shows how effectively Mitchell conveys ambience

Fred Mitchell, Parade, 1947

Shortly after finishing Parade, Mitchell moved to Rome where he lived and worked for three years. Two paintings from the period Untitled, (1950) and Cielo-Montana, Rome (1950), vividly demonstrate his command of the Ab-Ex idiom. Untitled 1950 consists of yellow lines and red blotches against a black background. Crisscrossing each other across the vertical field, the lines generate a lively sense of movement that brings to mind equations scrawled cross a chalkboard. Cielo-Montana, Rome, also vertical, includes many kinds of forms-thick and thin stripes, rectangular spots of color, larger areas of lighter hues-that bump up against each other and create contrapuntal energies whose effects are jazzy and syncopated.

Fred Mitchell, Walking in Battery Park, 1955
Oil on canvas, 82 x 46 1/2 inches
Private collection

But Mitchell really opened up when he arrived in New York in 1951. Long a downtown resident, Mitchell treats, within the confines of his abstract idiom, such natural phenomena as clouds and trees, as well as the urban language of streets and buildings. In Walking in Battery Park (1955), for example, organic shapes in blazing reds, subtle blues and grassy greens contrast with more rectangular building like forms that weight the painting. Ithacan Stream from the late 1960s, is simpler, with its red patches and pastel cloud shapes painted over four background areas, mostly yellow in color.

Fred Mitchell, Ithacan Stream, c.1968
Oil on canvas, 65 x 50 inches

Mitchell’s pleasure in the painting process is palpable here, and the results exceptionally graceful.

Jonathan Goodman for Art in America
April 2004