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Mitchell Art has Prairie Roots   Print

by Jenny Gabruch
Saskatoon StarPhoenix
July 1, 2000

It was a homecoming for Joni Mitchell Friday as she launched her first Canadian art exhibition at the Mendel Art Gallery.

The musician, poet and painter, who lives in Los Angeles, said it was important she open the show in Saskatoon.

"For one, Papa Mendel, who donated this museum, was the grandfather of a friend of mine in high school and we partied at his house," she said of gallery founder Fred Mendel.

"So the first great paintings that I got a chance to see, Picasso's and Matisse's, were at Grandpa Mendel's house."

The main reason, however, was her parents.

"I wanted my parents to be able to attend a retrospective of my work. They were always very encouraging."

Mitchell, with unlit cigarette at the ready, fielded questions from media Friday afternoon before the exhibition's official opening in the evening.

"No, I'm not nervous. This is pleasant," she said of showing more than 80 paintings, photographs and other art works spanning 35 years.

She discussed the connection between her music, poetry and painting, giving a nod to her Prairie roots for much of her inspiration.

"I'm a flatlander. It's bound to be part of anyone's creative wellspring."

Born in Fort McLeod, Mitchell lived in various small towns before her family settled in Saskatoon when she was nine. She returns here often to visit.

Prairie images figure prominently in Mitchell's works - including Pioneer grain elevators, wheat fields, farm buildings and a snowy country road.

The exhibition features a series of abstracts along with works that have never been exhibited before. The prints are from original drawings she did between 1967 and 1977 including a portrait of Neil Young.

There's a series called the Delirium Paintings that Mitchell did in 1977 while in hospital.

The centerpiece is Turbulent Indigo, the Van Gogh-style self-portrait that graces the cover of her Grammy-winning album of the same name.

Another stunning work is titled Georgia O'Keefe's Rainbarrel, created in 1978. She painted a whole series from her week-long visit with the noted American painter but destroyed most of them.

The one on display was almost ruined as well. "My cat peed on it," laughed Mitchell.

Mitchell discussed how figures sometimes mysteriously appear in her works. "They come out in the paint - sort of like tea leaves."

She said her paintings are meant to tell stories, some autobiographical, others mystical. The goal of the exhibit is to show the link between her painting, words and music.

"After I finish the music, I paint, always," she said, "I steal time to paint whenever I can."

Gallery officials made an exception to its no-smoking rule to allow Mitchell to light up during the media session. Mendel director Gilles H├ębert said the policy had Mitchell somewhat concerned. When he told her smoking wasn't permitted she asked, "How about if I blow the smoke into a bottle?"

 

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