Michaud kicked off his 1986 interview with Mitchell with a very big question: “What inspires you to paint?” Mitchell answered by describing an experience where she’d been liberated from a bout of artist block: “Through the window I saw two fir trees in a park, and the grey sky, and the beautiful grey rain, and I was so happy,” she said. “It had something to do with being alive. I could see the pine trees, and I felt I could paint.”
Throughout her life, nature and the emotions it stirred provided the bedrock for Mitchell’s abstract paintings. “Emotion must have an outside reference,” wrote critic Irving Sandler in a 1957 profile, “and nature furnishes the external substance in her work.”
During one of Sandler’s visits to the artist’s downtown Manhattan studio, Mitchell was working on two paintings. In both, “a recollected landscape provided the initial impulse,” Sandler continued, “but the representational image was transformed in the artist’s imagination by feelings inspired by bridge and beach.” Indeed, Mitchell kept a reserve of vistas and vegetation in her mind, for moments when she might need them in the studio. “I carry my landscapes around with me,” she admitted to Sandler.
Though early in her career, Mitchell remembered “[hating] the word ‘Nature’ with a capital ‘N,’” she later admitted its essential role in her practice. “Now I accept it. I suppose. I mean, I really like trees and flowers and dogs and all that much more than a lot of other people,” she told Nochlin.