By in Culture

Arts Writer

Erin McDermott is a recent graduate from the U of S fine arts program. She is currently working, painting, travelling and slowly preparing for grad school. Erin sat down for a chat about Joan Mitchell, a modern American abstract artist who has influenced her work and helped her to make sense of her own style.

The Sheaf: How did you discover Joan Mitchell?

Erin McDermott: I’m not totally sure. But in school when I was bored I’d go to the 6th floor of the Murray Library and sit there searching through books for different images. I think that is how I discovered her. Also, during class critique students and professors suggest artists to check out, so it may have been from there as well.

Sheaf: What is it about her work that speaks to you?

McDermott: The way she composes her images. Mostly the formal qualities; the colour, texture, line and speed of the brush strokes are what appeal to me. It’s like when you listen to a song and immediately fall in love with it when you hear it. By viewing her, I could see some of the things in my own artwork that I wanted to express and work out or that I was having trouble with that she succeeds in doing. So it’s as if, in a sense, I was looking at a painting of my own, one that expresses and captures things that I am currently unable to.

Joan Mitchell: Blue Tree
"Blue Tree" by Joan Mitchell - CLICK TO ENLARGE
A piece by Erin McDermott - CLICK TO ENLARGE
A piece by Erin McDermott - CLICK TO ENLARGE

Sheaf: How does your style differ from Mitchell’s?

McDermott: Well I think it’s quite different. I draw some elements from Mitchell’s but in the end its your own hand on the paintbrush so it will inevitably be different. Often her style is more organic and frenzied, while mine is slower and more meticulous. I focus on defined shapes more consistently, I think.

Sheaf: Have you seen Mitchell’s work in person?

McDermott: Yes, at the Tate Modern in London and the Pompidou Centre in Paris. We were on the main floor of the Pompidou and I was looking at all of the contemporary art and decided to go up the escalator to the second floor. As the escalator was reaching its peak, there was a huge 18-foot, three panel painting of Mitchell’s directly in front of me that filled my vision and totally blew me away.
I remember thinking about how much more impressive it was in person. You can only derive so much from textbooks and web photos. It’s like seeing your favourite movie star in real life. You can never fully appreciate how intense or beautiful they are until you see them in person.

Sheaf: Are there any websites, magazines or books you’re into right now that people should check out?

McDermott: Sure. Definitely check out It has found treasures, notes, receipts, doodles, old crafts or photos and people scan them or take photos and post them to the site with a small description of where and when they found it.
Juxtapoz magazine ( is also a favourite. My cousin gave me a big stack of old editions and I have been into ever since. They have some pretty interesting artist profiles from time to time. It isn’t “high art” or anything but it’s a nice break from the academic view of art that I was exposed to most of the time at university.