Sue Wilson speaks to J ONI
MITCHELL about . her dual career as
musician and painter, and previews her current exhibition.
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n the days before footballers made records. cynics might have suggested that an exhibition of paintings by a world famous singer-songwriter would have more curiosity than aesthetic value. but Joni Mitchell. whose work goes on show at Edinburgh‘s City Art Centre this month. has been a painter at least as long she‘s been a musician. ‘l‘ve painth all my life,‘ she says. ‘I never really decided to be either a musician or an artist. I just sort ofbec‘ame both.‘
Painting, in fact, was Mitchell‘s first career choice —- she enrolled at Alberta College of Art in the early 603, but rejected the constraints of a formal training after a year. ‘ltlaving been painting ever since I could remember. I found it really strange being with all these kids who‘d decided in their last year at school that they wanted to be artists.‘ This and her developing musical career combined to take her in a different direction — to her debut at the Mariposa Folk Festival in 1965 and on. via the coffee houses of Greenwich Village, to become a 60s legend. She was painting all the while. however, learning from artists she met in Toronto and New York.
Mitchell describes her painting and her music as developing along parallel lines. ‘If you look at my first album, you can see it as basically using two lines — voice and guitar. very simple compositions. Then. as time went by. I started adding more — another voice. more instruments. other harmonies. I worked with various people. jazz musicians and so on, making different styles ofmusic. It‘s the same with the painting »- I started offwith very simple figurative work. then gradually added different elements as I got interested in new ideas and styles.‘
Mitchell still sees music and painting as two connected, though distinct. aspects of a broader creative response to her experiences. operating in tandem. ‘When I‘m writing songs. the music tends to come fairly easily. but I find the words more difficult. lturn to painting to stop me
14 The List 7 — 20 December 1990
getting writer‘s block; whenever I can‘t write I just think, it‘s time to do something else for a while and go and do some painting.‘
The exhibition is entitled Diary ()fa Decade — the 28 paintings, mainly acrylic on canvas. record an eclectic selection ofplaces. incidents and people encountered during the last ten years. ‘I see the 805 as having been a very hard decade.‘ says Mitchell. ‘Enormous wealth and greed became respectable. people went around dressed all in black. as though they were going to a funeral.‘ The mood of the paintings however. is much more positive and animated than one would expect from this, or from the reflective. often melancholy, tone ofher music. ‘I tend to focus on the darker side of experience in my music. whereas the paintings are usually about lighter things. more cheerful feelings or memories.‘
Mitchell‘s work displays a wide diversity of styles. including simple figuration. near-complete abstraction and various combinations of the two. She often employs a kind of composite technique. arranging fragmented images of incidents. people and places on the canvas. emphasising the reconstructed nature ofthese visual memories. Some ofthe works. with titles like Charlie the Ball Dying in Mexico, record specific incidents. while in others, particularly the more abstract. the emphasis on texture and surface suggests a more direct expression of a mood or emotion.
Whatever you make ofthem. Joni Mitchell‘s paintings are not the work of an idle dabbler: she is clearly as serious and dedicated an artist as she is a musician. They also offer an unusual and often intimate insight into the life of the woman who blazed the trail for today‘s generation of female singer-songwriters. forming an exhibition of interest to ageing hippies and art—love rs alike.
Joni Mitchell: Diary ofa Decade — Paintings 1980—1990 is at the City Art Centre. Edinburgh. 8 Dec—12 Jan. Her next album. Night Ride Home. is scheduled for release in early 1991.