Jackson Pollock: from representation to abstract expression

Jackson Pollock: A Collection Survey, 1934-1954, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in the Spring of 2016.

All the notes are adapted from those provided by the Musuem with the exception of those in blue.  The works are all from the collection of the MOMA.

 

1934-1938

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The Fire;  oil on canvas mounted on fiberboard

 

 

1936-37

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Landscape with Steer; lithograph with airbrushed lacquer additions. 

MOMA notes that the artist experimented with different techniques in order to figure out their expressive possibilities.

 

1938-41

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Untitled; pencil and coloured pencil on paper.

MOMA points to the influence of the Mexican muralist, Clemente Orozco, whose work Jackson Pollock was studying intensively at this time.

 

1938-41

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Untitled; screen print with ink and gouache additions.

 

1938-41

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Bird; oil and sand on canvas

 

1942

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Untitled (Animals and Figures;  gouache and ink on paper.

 

1942

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Stenographic figure; oil on linen

 

1943

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The She-Wolf; oil, casein and gouache on canvas.

The museum notes that the artist refused to identify the source of this representation.  As to technique: the artist covered the canvas with multicoloured splashes, drips and washes.  He superimposed the black outline of the wolf.  He then added thick white lines to outline her shape further and also patches of blue-gray for further relief.

 

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Water Birds, oil on canvas, 1943.  Baltimore Museum of Art

 

1944

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Gothic; oil on canvas

The museum’s notes indicate that the artist said that this painting, which contains figurative elements, was based on the 1907 Picasso representation Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.

 

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Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907,oil on canvas.  Pablo Picasso, 1881-1973, MOMA, New York

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1945

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Untitled; crayon, ink, coloured pencil, watercolour on paper

 

c. 1945

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There were Seven in Eight; oil, casein and enamel paint on canvas

The museum says that it is this painting that shows how the artist began to abandon the idea of a symbolic vocabulary and move to a non-representational form.  At the base here is figurative imagery. He then ‘veiled the image’ with a network of black lines, covering the surface such that there is no focus point. Snakes, eyes and faces are still recognizable through the veil.

 

1946

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Detail of Shimmering Substance; oil on canvas.

One of seven canvases from Sounds in the Grass whose palette is paler than the artist’s older ones.

MOMA notes that this is one of the first of the artist’s non-representational paintings. The artist expressed the paint directly onto the canvas from the tube and then manipulated it to the edges.  Its lighter palette may be connected with his move out to the light of Long Island.

 

1946

 

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Untitled, gouache and pastel on paper.  Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, on display at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NY in the spring of 2017

 

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Detail of Free Form; oil on canvas. 

The museum believes this to be the artist’s first drip painting.  The artist painted the entire canvas red and then flung oil paint onto the service using a brush or a stick.

 

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Circumcision, 1946, oil on canvas.  Peggy Guggenheim Collection Venice on display at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Musuem, NY in the spring of 2017.

 

1947

 

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Alchemy, 1947, oil, aluminum, alkyd enamel paint, with sand, pebbles, fibers and wood on commercially printed fabric.  Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice

 

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Full Fathom Five, and detail; oil on canvas with tacks, keys, coins, nails, buttons, cigarettes, matches etc.

The museum notes that this painting, whose title about a shipwreck is from Shakespeare’s The Tempest,  is an early drip painting in which the crust is paint applied with a knife and palette.  Detritus of all kinds is caught and held in this crust.

 

1948

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Number 1A, 1948.

MOMA’s notes indicate that this drip painting was one of the earliest whose canvas was worked lying on the floor of a studio.  All figures and symbols have been eliminated.  The subject of the painting is painting itself and it is numbered, rather than named to focus the mind on the painting and not any putative subject.

 

1950

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One, Number 31, 1950

MOMA notes that this is a masterpiece of the drip method of painting.  The canvas was placed on the floor to be worked.

 The artist said:  “On the floor I feel more at ease. I feel nearer, more a part of the painting since this way I can work around it, work from the four sides and literally be in the painting.”

 

I am grateful for this painting.

Ever since I first saw it in a large retrospective in 1998 it has emitted a faint light somewhere behind me.  The painting emits a low-intensity, diffuse light.  Not bright.  A light like that of pulsars.  A backlight which has accompanied my American sojourn so as to diminish, somewhat, my anxiety in a foreign land. A foreign continent.  Because this is an American painting.  Uniquely.

 The artist wants us to focus on the painting itself.  But the work came from somewhere and points to something.

Its vastness recalls the the world and the universe.  Its tension and energy, its fragmented and deeply coherent surface,  its internal equilibrium and spurting sprints,  its disciplined containment, its balance between lines and dots and spots, the complementarity of and competition between black and white lines.  The soft blue-grey which in some places shadows the lines of black and white and in others provides little oases. And all on an earth and sand ground.

I like that the artist said that he engaged his whole body with his work once the canvas was laid flat on the ground.  Having removed all figuration from his work, the artist’s body figures in it in ways more complex than could have been achieved in a figurative work because here are the clear traces  of the movements of his hand and eye and body.

This was 1950.  The atom bomb had been exploded twice to end a world war.  I take it that the memory of those bombs is here also.  And the muted palette of this composition has always seemed to me to be about the deprivations and deaths of the war.  I may be over-reading, though.

And this explosion of a painting, this description of our modern world as it is from a man who had the courage and nerve to break open this world to our view; a man born in Cody, Wyoming, a  place never breathed to me in my European childhood and adolescence.  

It was the American artist, Frank Stella who said – I read many years ago – to be unafraid and to get up close to a painting in order to experience it.  From near and from afar, too.

And so I thank the Museum of Modern Art who never – in 20 years – has told me to step back from any work on display even when I was inches from the surface of the work.   They simply watch closely.  This must be a policy on their part.

 

1950

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Untitled; ink on paper

 

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Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist), oil, enamel and aluminum on canvas.  National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

 

1953

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Easter and the Totem; oil on canvas

MOMA says that dripping and pouring were no longer the artist’s primary method of painting after 1952.

 The artist said: “I am very representational some of the time, and a little all of the time.”  He began to use a brush and reverted to quasi-figurative figures.  MOMA notes that the artist weaved his way between figuration and abstraction all his working life.

 

1954

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White Light; oil, enamel and aluminum paint on canvas

The museum notes that this is one of the last paintings the artist completed and the only one he finished in 1954. He squeezed paint directly onto the canvas and used a brush also.

The artist, who was suffering artist’s block, died a desperate death in 1956 at the age of 44.

One of those whom the gods loved.

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Below is the affirmation by Lee Krasner (1908-1984), the wife of Jackson Pollock, that she had determined, finally, to survive her grief at the death of her husband; and keep on working.

She called this painting The Seasons.  It is so close in size to her husband’s One 31, 1950 as makes no difference.  It dates from 1957 and is in the collection of the Whitney Museum of (North) American Art, New York.

Its beckoning and encompassing beauty and its balance; its rolling hot blood pink energy rocking backwards and forwards; the green of the artist’s life just beginning to push out from the margins of the painting towards the sun and into our view……..all but stop your heart.

 

Lee Krasner, Whitney June 2015-3

Lee Krasner, The Seasons, 1957, Whitney-1

Lee Krasner, Whitney June 2015-1

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