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Widening Circles: Mel Chin

To celebrate the Joan Mitchell Foundation's 25th anniversary, we invited 25 artists to reflect on the impact of receiving support from the Foundation over the years, and to share how they activated the resources provided by the Foundation. We collected their stories, along with studio portraits of the artists by photographer Reginald Eldridge, Jr., into an exhibition and book entitled Widening Circles: Portraits from the Joan Mitchell Foundation Artist Community at 25 Years. Here is the 3rd story in our series, from Mel Chin:

I met Joan Mitchell before I got an award named after her. It was at Robert Miller’s Gallery, 1991, in New York City. I was with the curator/director James Harithas and painter Norman Bluhm. They both knew Joan very well. Norman, an artist with a big personality, was uncharacteristically subdued that night, yet he offered her a heartfelt cocktail of admiration. They had a few words, then Joan quickly moved on, looking for more from others. I don’t think Norman took it as a slight; maybe it was a moment when both understood there was less and less time to represent the spirit, individuality, and tenacity it takes to be an artist, regardless of fame and hype.

I mostly remember her thick glasses and felt a strange eyewear kinship. As an artist, my work is so different from Joan Mitchell’s; maybe that is why I was surprised as well as honored by her posthumous generosity when I received the Painters & Sculptors Grant in 1997.

I dedicated the funds I received at that time toward a spectrum of works that represented two extremes of my practice: an experiment in covert collective engagement on one end, and the production of introspective, discrete objects on the other.

Years later, in 2011, the Joan Mitchell Foundation’s Creating a Living Legacy (CALL) initiative provided an essential instrument in the organization of works to be considered for my retrospective at the New Orleans Museum of Art. Thanks to the Foundation’s archival support, forty years of complex output were lifted out of inadequate documentation and given a chance at critical assessment.

Joan Mitchell certainly captured light in her art, and her thoughtful legacy created the capacity for another type of illumination to be placed on the works of future generations of artists.

Mel Chin investigates how art can provoke greater social awareness and responsibility. He was born in Houston, TX, and now lives in Egypt Township, NC.

Mel Chin, photograph by Reginald Eldridge, Jr.

Read more about Widening Circles and download the full book here.

All photos © 2018 Reginald Eldridge, Jr.

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Artists' Voices