Joni Mitchell Publishes a Book of Her Rarely Seen Paintings & Poetry

Self Portrait.”Art work by Joni Mitchell, from “Morn­ing Glo­ry on the Vine” / Cour­tesy Houghton Mif­flin Har­court

Joni Mitchell is a woman of many talents—too many for the label “singer-song­writer” to encom­pass. It does not cap­ture the lit­er­ary depth of her lyri­cism, the unique strength of her dis­tinc­tive voice, or the deft­ness and ver­sa­til­i­ty of her gui­tar play­ing. Nor the fact that she’s one of the most inter­est­ing per­son­al­i­ties in rock (or folk-rock­/­folk/­folk-jazz, what­ev­er). Mitchell’s biog­ra­phy is riv­et­ing; her chat­ty and can­tan­ker­ous inter­views a treat.

And, if you some­how didn’t know from her many album cov­ers, Mitchell is also an accom­plished visu­al artist. “I have always thought of myself as a painter derailed by cir­cum­stance,” she said in 2000. “I sing my sor­row and I paint my joy.” It’s a great quote, though she also sings her joy and paints sorrow—as in the por­trait of her hero, Miles Davis, made just after his death. (Davis was a painter too, and they bond­ed over art.)

Mitchell began sell­ing her work “when I was in high school to den­tists, doctors—small time,” she told Rolling Stone in 1990. She has writ­ten poet­ry since her teenage years. Her imag­is­tic song­writ­ing came from a love of lit­er­ary lan­guage. “I wrote poet­ry,” she says, “and I always want­ed to make music. But I nev­er put the two things togeth­er,” until she heard Dylan’s “Pos­i­tive­ly Fourth Street” and real­ized “you could make your songs lit­er­a­ture.”

Painter, poet, singer, song­writer, guitarist—all of the artis­tic sides of Mitchell have min­gled through­out her career in the visu­al splen­dor of her cov­ers, com­po­si­tions, and lyrics. They also came togeth­er in a rare 1971 book. After the release of Blue, Mitchell “gath­ered more than thir­ty draw­ings and water­col­ors in a ring binder and paired them with hand­writ­ten lyrics and bits of poet­ry,” writes Aman­da Petru­sich at The New York­er.

She had the book hand­bound in an edi­tion of 100 copies and gave it to friends for the hol­i­days, call­ing it “The Christ­mas Book.” Now it has a dif­fer­ent title, Morn­ing Glo­ry on the Vine, for a new edi­tion to be released Octo­ber 22nd. Part of the exten­sive cel­e­bra­tions for Mitchell’s 75th birth­day, this edi­tion ful­fills a decade-long desire for the artist. “I always want­ed to redo it and sim­pli­fy the pre­sen­ta­tion,” she tells Petru­sich. “Work is meant to be seen.”

The col­lec­tion “feels con­so­nant with Mitchell’s song­writ­ing” in that it cap­tures “tan­ta­liz­ing details about home,” in this case the home in Lau­rel Canyon that she shared with Gra­ham Nash, the inspi­ra­tion for the Cros­by, Stills & Nash song “Our House.” Still life com­po­si­tions and self-por­traits, both “vivid” and “inti­mate,” com­ple­ment her vul­ner­a­ble, play­ful, “fun­ny and weird,” lyrics and vers­es. You can see more of the paint­ings from Morn­ing Glo­ry on the Vine at The New York­er and order a copy of the book here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

See Clas­sic Per­for­mances of Joni Mitchell from the Very Ear­ly Years–Before She Was Even Named Joni Mitchell (1965/66)

How Joni Mitchell Wrote “Wood­stock,” the Song that Defined the Leg­endary Music Fes­ti­val, Even Though She Wasn’t There (1969)

Songs by Joni Mitchell Re-Imag­ined as Pulp Fic­tion Book Cov­ers & Vin­tage Movie Posters

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (5)
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  • Ron says:

    I fell in love with her song Help Me that song crossed over to black radio sta­tions when it came out I believe in 1974.The song is a Beau­ti­ful com­bi­na­tion of jazzy,soft rock melody that sounds real­ly good the the mind and heart.

  • kenney says:

    THERE seems to me to be a blurred line between Mitchell’s doo­dling (art­work for Song to a Seag­ull) and fine art/painting (cov­er for Clouds). The doo­dling is not & should not be cat­e­go­rized as fine art.

  • Benjamin Over says:

    You com­ment is fine art

  • mark says:

    i did­n’t think song to a seag­ull was remem­bered by any­one and should be re-released. her real dis­cov­er­er was david cros­by. who is still record­ing. this was sup­pos­ed­ly back in the folksinger/coffeehouse days. she has lived many lives.

  • F. Scott Weitz says:

    I love the sound of Joni Mitchel­l’s pain.
    — That’s a line from an unpub­lished and unpub­lish­able book I wrote years ago called The Afflict­ed.
    — I’ve recent­ly self pub­lished a very short and odd book that fits the same char­ac­ter­i­za­tion ‑and then some. Lovers of the strange (who are nei­ther polit­i­cal­ly cor­rect nor social­ly con­ser­v­a­tive) can down­load Time­warped (or In Defense of Har­vey Wein­stein) for free on Smash­words.
    Love ya Joni! But, I don’t think you’d approve of my lit­tle book. Don’t read it.
    F. Scott Weitz
    I intend to buy Joni’s book of art­work +poet­ry.

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