Joni Mitchell > Background

I had been thinking of painting a portrait of Joni Mitchell for quite a long time. I had not painted a portrait of her in my work from the 1970s-1980s. I had of course represented her many times in some of the paintings of then inspired by her music, when it seemed to me that the chosen composition’s story alluded to her own - but I never considered the depictions of Joni Mitchell in those paintings as being portraits.
In my mind and my heart, that portrait to paint was to celebrate the musician and painter as much as her career and her work. From the start, the Hejira road immediately established itself as the symbol of her path. That borderless road, which pierced the black fur stole and the dark dress that the musician wore in 1976 for her eighth studio album, portrayed by the great photographer Norman Seeff.

Hejira, a masterful album, probably Joni Mitchell's greatest album among so many others of these immense albums that we owe to her, and one of the greatest albums of all times - in my opinion at least. This work left an indelible mark on me. Enough so that, forty-eight years after its release, Hejira led me to Heciya.

The Hejira road took Joni Mitchell far away, towards her future, where she stands today. A straight road, in the direction of the unknown yet to be explored. An open road : its dotted line allowed overtaking, in both directions. Both Sides, then. Thus, total freedom to turn way back, total freedom to pass by the obstacles encountered at each crossroad of existence to better enjoy free rein. Which Joni Mitchell never deprived herself of. Going beyond conventions, daring to venture. Some road symbol of the thirst for discovery, in the direction of the horizon and the "Clouds of Michelangelo, Muscular with gods and sungold".

The premise of resuming the staging of the Hejira photography for this portrait of today was therefore immediately obvious, because it was the most legitimate, the most attractive and the most stimulating of challenges. But which made me wonder a lot, throughout my preliminary pictorial research.

Temptation was great of paying the homage to the end and paint only in black and white, evoking Norman Seeff’s beautiful ranges. Black and white could have been interesting, for someone like me who loves colour so much. But then I would have failed to represent Joni Mitchell as she appears today to us. That is to say, the opposite of the monochrome, icy, dreamy and distant portrait selected for Hejira. A woman dressed in vibrant colours, with a bright smile expressing her vitality, a colourful ode to life, that she could have lost following the terrible accident that struck her in 2015.

Regarding Heciya, today’s route was to herald other stages of life than Hejira’s. Hence, that road could not either be similar. The Hejira road pointed in one direction, that of all possibilities. All the way through, Joni Mitchell explored these in her discography and her painting, crossing all lines, and particularly those which prohibited her from going elsewhere.

And a country road come off the wall
And swoop down on the crowd at the bar
And put me at the top of your danger list
Just for being so much like you are.

The road that I needed to paint could not be a straight road that encourages you to overtake at full speed and roam wherever the wind carries you. It had to give way to a more winding path, where each turn must be negotiated with care. This new geography of life that advances concerns us all. Age demands that we listen better to what it teaches us, we must accept to reckon its rules and try to live with them. Roads off the beaten track, wild and adventurous paths without brakes become rarer, because of the passage of Time and other thieves that accompany its course.

One continues to move on, but at a more thoughtful pace, at the rhythm of seasons that fade and then rejoice, the rhythm of time -our best friend and best foe according to the days… nothing wrong or right here, just our lives as they go on that road of ours.

Something’s lost but something’s gained in living every day.










© Jacques Benoit. Design, œuvres, photographies et textes par Jacques Benoit et placés sous son copyright. Les contenus provenant d'autres sources sont crédités comme tel, ainsi que leur origine.
© Jacques Benoit. Design, works, photographies and texts by Jacques Benoit and under the author’s copyright. Except when derived from other sources and then mentioned as such.