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>> Susan Davidson on Jackson Pollock
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Pollock’s friend, the artist Nick Carone, has always talked about Pollock’s connection with Roberto Matta and Arshile Gorky. Their version of surrealism differs from the popular understanding of surrealism.

It was an American-style surrealism that combined several different kinds of tenets.

Margaret Ellis’s essay in the exhibition catalogue talks about how Pollock pursued new techniques like atomizers and the first felt-tipped markers and ballpoint pens, such as the "Reynold’s Rocket" in 1946. Why was this so surprising?

Pollock used any available material, which isn’t unusual. He was interested in pouring enamels and ways to control inks.

Jackson Pollock, Untitled, 1951
Collection of Barbara and Donald Jonas
©Pollock-Krasner Foundation / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2004

In Thomas Hart Benton’s class at the Art Students League, where Pollock was a monitor, students were "busily scratching out a drawing with a grocer’s pencil on brown wrapping paper".

The paper Pollock used was traditional.

Like Arches.

And the sample books.

Jackson Pollock, Untitled
(from 2nd Sketchbook, c. 1937 - 38,folio 13) c. 1937 - 38
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

©Pollock-Krasner Foundation / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2004

His early sketchbook studies were frequently based on old master paintings.

Pollock starts in realism, doing it well, and then goes to all-over abstraction and masters the line. Everyone including Pollock said he was a bad draftsman, but the sketchbooks are revelatory. You see this overwrought quality that anticipates the overall abstraction and density in the 40s.

Untitled, c. 1939-42 Collection of Blake Byrne, Los Angeles
©Pollock-Krasner Foundation / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2004

And pure energy.

In the early sketchbooks, his hand is on the paper and he’s smearing the pencils. I hope people will see that in the exhibition.

Agnes Martin just died in New Mexico. She and Pollock were born the same year. It’s interesting to think of them together. In contrast to Martin, Pollock is seen as psychologically driven and the work as a window into his emotional states.

There’s a lot of emphasis on that with Pollock. I’m not sure that’s how it was. Martin was austere, while Pollock’s personality and work were larger than life. Pollock was open about his involvement with psychoanalysis at a time when it wasn’t typical for people to be open, so people continue to hang everything off that. When you look at abstract work, the viewer is free to take from it what they want and that’s its great strength, but it’s time we stopped doing that with Pollock.

Susan Davidson, Curator, Guggenheim Museum
Courtesy: Cheryl Kaplan
©2004, Cheryl Kaplan. All rights reserved.

Was the Ed Harris movie unfair to Pollock?

It was dreadful because it took two minutes of a myth and blew it up into a full 90 minutes without developing who Pollock was as a person or what the cause for his turmoil was. It’s a shame because the director, Ed Harris, had a lot of integrity about what he wanted to do.

He did a lot of research.

He took a moment and played it out.

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