At first glance of a Jackson Pollock abstract paint splatter (as they are often referred) one’s first reaction is ‘he just throws and drips paint on canvas, anybody could do that; even my kid could do that’. Upon closer inspection and further research into the man and his art you realize, to be able to reproduce his work would be genius itself. If ‘anybody could do that’, then he wouldn’t be the most well known of a select few who did it successfully. Pollock’s art career is a true example of what it means to be an artist, how to grow in and with your art.
His approach was different and markedly unconventional and his work has been the center of controversy about what constitutes art. His work in composition follows many of the artistic elements, so it is hard to argue the work or the process as being un-artistic. Jackson Pollock’s career began in New York City, studying under Thomas Hart Benton at the Art Students League (Moore, 2009). From his earliest work you can see his aptitude for movement in his art – his work had a rhythm and flow. “Benton boasted that with him Pollock had found ‘the essential rhythms of art’” (Moore, 2009).
His academic work and sketches demonstrated his focus on ‘twisting countershifts’ in his approach and his subject matter focused mainly on historical sources and the European Masters (Moore, 2009). It wasn’t until his post-student work that you begin to see real signs of his move towards abstraction. Works such as Flame (c. 1934-1938), Bird (1941) and Orange Head (c. 1938-1942) are the first indications of the switch. It is also the first time we begin to see him mixing other mediums with his paint, such as sand and glass.
In addition to following in the stylistic footsteps of his mentor, Pollock was also influenced by Mexican muralist painters such as, Orozco, Rivera and Siqueiros he also emulated the surrealist styles of Miro and Picasso (AMBA, 2003). Studying Pollock’s works, it is apparent the various influences of style from fellow artists. It is challenging however looking at his later ‘drip’ work to discern what lies behind; to understand its purpose or influence. Many of his later works such as in Number 1 (Lavender Mist) it is easy to see the influence of nature on his art.
Today, one has only to step into the meadow behind Pollock’s house to understand the overwhelming presence of nature in the dense, interwoven surfaces of his work. Pollock once defended the source of his imagery saying, “I am nature. ” (Moore, 2009) Jackson Pollock-Lee Krasner House. Hans Namuth, 1984. © 1999 Estate of Hans Namuth Just looking at the image of his own backyard, the textures of the foliage and contrast in color and depth, you can see the parallel between that and the ‘All-over’ style of painting.
Though an Italian writer criticized Pollock’s work as “chaos–absolute lack of harmony– complete lack of structural organization– total absence of technique, however rudimentary– once again, chaos… ,” To his detractor, whose words were reprinted in a November 1950 Time magazine article, Pollock replied: “NO CHAOS, DAMN IT! ” (Moore, 2009) Pollock’s 1947 paintings were anything but chaos, though certainly unconventional, breaking the boundaries of traditional technique and redefining ‘what is art? ’ – Pollock’s lines were often quite deliberate as were his instruments and technique.
He incorporated the formal artistic elements, just in a broad manner with an often undefined purpose out side of emotion or aesthetic. On Number 1 (Lavender Mist) Pollock worked in layers. His base may have begun as a layer of poured paint or splattered line, but as the work developed his ‘drips’ became very deliberate. You can see where he went in with a brush to spread out paint in certain areas to create dimension. He layered paint colors to change the value in areas to add depth within the space. He used different types of paint (in this case oil and enamel) to also add value and texture to the work.
The thickness of the paint gives it such a strength of depth taking it from 2-D to nearly 3-D – visually it feels like you could follow your hand along the paintings ridges, that it would rise and drop. Using this technique of layering and material variety his ‘tiny black striations in the dusty pink’ creates an ‘infinity of tones’ (Moore, 2009). Most interesting and effective in Number 1 (Lavender Mist) is his use of color; his painting creates the illusion of an overall lavender hue where no lavender was used anywhere in the painting.
Pollock’s tackling of space goes back to his ‘All-over’ style of painting in that he didn’t really consider space as a limiting factor. Many of his canvases were actually ‘cut down’ to ‘fit’ the art. It was not uncommon for him to crop his pieces after the final product. Pollock played an active roll in his drip paintings, making them quite dynamic. Alfonso Ossorio said, “his work expressed both action and contemplation”. He physically moved around the work in all directions, in essence his painting was a choreographed dance that instead of telling through representation how he felt, he was capturing emotion in an instant.
The artist was always ‘in the moment’ and the canvas became a voyeuristic camera, the paint its chemical snapshot. Instead of telling a story in a surrealist abstract as he began his art career he was now creating a self portrait of interpretation. In this one way he revolutionized the art world. He was in his art, apart of it, he was nature and it was nature (Moore, 2009). Time Magazine dubbed Jackson Pollock, “Jack the Dripper” and making a connection with the notorious butcher, many would argue that he was butchering the art world every time he stepped on a canvas (Time, 1956).
Perhaps that is the nature of revolutionizing anything. Pollock’s Number 1 (Lavender Mist) is considered art because it utilizes the formal elements of art, although it handles them in an unconventional matter. It is representative of its subject matter and has something to say simply through the emotion it conveys. More to the point though,, it is art because it even raises the discussion that it’s not – if it really weren’t artistic it wouldn’t even warrant discussion. References
Sayre, Henry (YEAR). A World of Art (4th Ed. ). Location: Publlisher.. Moore, Barbara (2009). Jackson Pollock. National Gallery of Art. Retrieved Mar 16, 2009, from http://www. nga. gov/feature/pollock/index. shtm The American Museum of Beat Art (2003). Jackson Pollock 1912-1956. Retrieved Mar 17, 2009, from http://www. beatmuseum. org/pollock/jacksonpollock. html TIME (1956). The Wild Ones. Retrieved Mar 17, 2009, from http://www. time. com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,808194-4,00. html
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