Cracking Jasper: Pop Corn art

 

FEATURED IMAGE: Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009). 1951. Trodden Weed, Philadelpia Museum of Art

 

Reflections upon reading, Jasper Johns: “Take an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it.”. The long read, By Barbara Rose. Published 7 September 2017. Royal Academy Magazine.

 

  • Means whatever you want? Pop Corn Art.

  • All this name-dropping. Starts to grate?

  • Critics can’t help themselves.

  • But art is also a business.

 

The art means what?

It came to me jogging.

What is the man actually saying? What does this heterodox flurry of images mean?

Answer, whatever you want. Like a candy store, there’s something for everyone.

It’s Feet Up art for the leisured generation.

So it mirrors the age.

 

Rummaging the treasure chest. Starts to grate?

One can have a problem with young Jasper.

Some way into Ms Rose’s panegyric, as a Mr Johns work “quotes” yet another art history icon, I was reminded of Democrat Senator Lloyd Bentsen’s now famous rejoinder to Republican Senator Dan Quayle in the US 1988 VP debate. `Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.’

As we see how the hatching in Munch’s Self portrait by chance matches Mr Johns use of it, after, the story goes, he spotted it on a passing bus.

In the same vein we are reminded of the work of another postwar American “giant”, Mr Cy Twombly, who also indulged a lazy sustained penchant for shamelessly tapping, “quoting” history, in an apparently banal, glib or obscure way,

So one thinks, in both cases, how about a blind tasting?

Assemble a panel of well informed “experts” unfamiliar with the work of CT or JJJ, show them a bunch of relevant images, then ask them to jot down what references each image might suggest: literary, historic, artistic etc.

So I wonder how many might find in JJJ… the Isenheim Altarpiece? Munch’s Self portrait? Not to mention Proust! And Hart Crane, William Faulkner, etc etc.

The Isenheim Altarpiece?? Isn’t it kind of sacrilegious to blithely cite this iconic work?

 

Lazy, feet up, follow your nose art, for the TV generation.

You live long enough, stay busy, keep pouring out visual encounters of a diverse and wondrous kind, permutations of which allow vastly more possibilities, and soon there’s enough material to keep legions of agile energetic minds occupied searching connections and meaning.

One likes the quip about André Gide! Like a wise quarry, play hard to get.

And you laugh near the end too, coming across the artist one Barnett Newman, a remarkable but dare I say successful diligent self-promoter (with help from a dutiful wife), labouring tirelessly to coax profound meaning from his trademark trouser aid motif. And labouring “heroically” too one gathers.

Well this heavy adverb might fit far better, for example, the work of an elderly lady Australian indigenous artist called Sally Gabori who died a year or so back, whose best work, also abstract, could easily hold its own against the AbEx leaders and also be effortlessly authentic.

So, unfashionably, Mr Andrew Wyeth’s 1951 Trodden Weed might beat any image here by JJJ?

There’s nothing in principle against contemporary art, so long as it says something, shows constructive purpose.

 

The critics let rip: into overdrive, no brakes!

Rather, he is great because, somehow, he accesses and articulates, in a gorgeous, sensual manner, mysteries that, for the rest of us, are unfathomable. …..

Indeed, many of his paintings have an arcane, rabbinical quality.

Like a priest, he seems to be in possession of great wisdom and spiritual insight into fundamental aspects of our existence.

We may employ a different phrase, and say that he taps, rapturously, into something divine…” Per A. Mr Sooke in the Daily Telegraph.

Lucky I was sitting down when I read this.

Yes well.

As I say, try a blind tasting and see how many tick, Divine hues, or Rabbinical overtones, or Hints of unfathomable mysteries.

Something here of that story about the Emperor who forgot his clothes?

 

Yes we need to remember art is also a business. The artists, the museums, the critics, the private commercial galleries, the auction houses. And for a small coterie of artists their output is big business. Lots of noughts.

So we have what the governance manual calls, conflict of interest.

 

Cheer up. Modernity is a wonderful thing

Finally as a Whig optimist, now unfashionable in many quarters, one smiles at the gloomy reactionary pessimism near the end of the RA essay, “the technology-dominated…. world threatened with extinction because of human greed, brutality and ignorance”. This is misleading, elitist and probably dead wrong.

Ask the billions of people today who can now access sewage facilities thanks to “technology”.

 

A tasting….

a2

Between the Clock and the Bed, 1981.  Oil on canvas. 182.9 x 320.7 cm. Collection of the artist

a3

Edvard Munch (1863-1944) Self-portrait. Between the clock and the bed, 1940-43, 120.5 x 149.5 cm, Munch Museum, Oslo, Norway

a4

Sally Gabori (c1924- March 2015). 2008, Dibirdibi Country, synthetic polymer paint on linen, 200 x 600 cm, Queensland Art Gallery.

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SAY anything? Whatever you want.

Jasper Johns, Jr.

(born May 15, 1930)

 

Pop Corn art, Feet Up art.

 

FEATURED: ‘Untitled’ 1984.

 

  • Busy, but does he say something? Anything?

  • Whatever you want.

  • So it’s Pop Corn art, Feet Up art, for the leisured generation.

  • Art for the mind otiose, not alert, let alone fearful.

  • So yes his art mirrors the age.

  • A now prodigious wandering purveyor of Entertaining Distraction.

  • But the art is passive, lacks purpose.

  • Not ONE portrait?

  • After a flying start he might have tried… painting!

 

j2

Painting with Two Balls, 1960. Encaustic and collage on canvas with objects. 165.1 x 137.5 cm. Collection of the artist.

j3

Regrets, 2013, 127 x 182.9 cm. Collection of Marguerite Steed Hoffman

 

Saying something? Anything?

  • Jasper Johns Jr is now famous for being famous, illustrating the Snowball Theory of fame. Get a start, traction, then roll far enough.
  • He seeded market interest early (in his mid 20s, now way back in the mid 1950s), with the distinctive Flag and Target motifs – cleverly, astutely or just luckily – and, having got the teacher’s attention, like the long river has just kept a rolling and a tumbling busily ever after, gathering an abundant heterodox Personal Iconography along the way, so his presence has multiplied, accreted, seeped ever deeper into the American cultural edifice, and beyond, wherever wait moneyed idle minds.
  • As happened his opening play responded astutely to market opportunity, when the market was looking for the next thing, after the emphatic post WW2 Abstract Expressionist experience. So he quickly became part of the diverse POP burst, with his then friend the industrious Robert Rauschenberg, with the arguably more incisive Andy Warhol, and later the expansive (literally), steely focussed Koons They all depicted (in painting and beyond) Everyday Objects.
  • Johns is distractingly entertaining, now relentlessly and prodigiously, now a barnacled Methuslah, the catchy famous Flag and Target paintings doorstepping a plethora of diverse images, a pot pourri of constructions across the decades; employing a range of scavenged themes and motifs, and a rattlebag of intriguing titles; the cumulative detail of which can feed a bevy of speculative theses.
  • But is he actually saying much? Something? Anything?? Does he remind us perhaps too much of Mr Twombly?

 

Yes! Feet Up Art. Whatever You Want Art, His art is saying “Entertaining Distraction”

  • Most art textbooks suggest art often or usually mirrors the age that bears and mothers it. Which makes obvious sense. And yes this seems to fit the young Jasper.
  • Firstly, his work is Feet Up art, follow your nose art, follow the thread, the rice grains in the dark forest art.
  • It’s passive and lazy art, Pop Corn art, more suited to the mind otiose, rather than alert let alone fearful.
  • So it mirrors a more leisured age, and in particular one awash with visual imagery, through the TV generation to start, in the 1950s, but now multiplied hugely to the point of digital overload.
  • When, therefore, men could pass long days in leisure… , they.. applied their thoughts to the multiplication of their enjoyments.” wrote Constantin Francois, Comte de Volney (1757-1820) in 1791  (Chap VII of Ruins etc).
  • Secondly, it’s Something for Everyone art. Everyone finds something in the prolific variety.
  • And almost everyone’s looking for a Sign. Minds are susceptible, prone to Signs, reflecting a general predisposition, appetite for myth, for encounters of an uncommon kind, for a tantalising gesture from the alluring numinous, for self-serving “suspend disbelief” supernatural engagement.

 

The alternative? He could have tried… painting something? Anything!

  • As some commentators have noted Johns began with a flurry, found early recognition with his Flag and Target images, but then struggled to sustain the excitement.
  • He might have tried… painting!
  • But achieving creative purpose, sustaining the creative journey, is hard.
  • Look at He found it hard, trod water for years, needed a “crisis” to provoke a statement. Maybe the passionate younger Derain helped trigger the Fauve statement? The war then triggered statements, like the 1914 Window at Collioure, and his son at the piano in 1916. And his fading health provoked, gave us the inimitable late decoupage experience.
  • So Matisse found purpose in the aesthetic arena, reminded us of its importance, even against the terrible backdrop of the Second Thirty Years War (1914-45).
  • Andre Derain found early fame too, as an energetic partner of Matisse in fashioning the Fauve color eruption in 1905. But he did not stand still, found other purpose across a long subsequent career, and out of step too with the avant-garde, thus setting up an interesting comparison with Johns.
  • Meanwhile Andrew Wyeth’s 1951 self portrait Trodden Weed says more than any of John’s works?

 

His journey

  • A cynic might see the Flag product as simply appropriating and exploiting an iconic national symbol for one’s own (commercial) interest (perhaps owing the People a measure of royalties?), and without adding much to the sum of knowledge, without challenging the cognitive sensibility of the open minded and informed?
  • JJ has been clever in fostering appeal by the art market:
    • 1/ Amassing a plenitude of motifs and themes, like crows collecting detritus on golf courses.
    • Early he got his hands on a signature motif, the US flag no less! Also the Target! But is that ART? Or nimble marketing savvy? If you’re going to paint Everyday Objects then the Stars and Stripes certainly resonates.
    • And circa 1960 he latched onto the theme of Gray.
    • And he has a sack of other favourite motifs, references, like abstract diagonal hatching, triggered by seeing a car go by, c1972.
    • Like, late 50s, the quasi-Twombly calligraphic scribble.
    • Like WE Hill’s 1915 ambiguous cartoon My Wife and My Mother-in-Law. And Rubin’s vase.
    • And famous names like Marcel Duchamp, Grunewald and Munch (citing his famous self portrait, Between clock and bed?!). And Hart Crane.
    • 2/ so he keeps his style / content / motifs moving, generating plenty variety, though generally more abstract than less;
    • 3/ He uses some figurative content, an collage, to help compound variety.
    • 4/ He favors lots of catchy, curious, obscure titles, which can become self-interestedly pretentious, like the Hart Crane reference.
  • Over a long period collective mutually reinforcing “bums on seats” self-interest in the art market (early featuring Leo Castelli’s gallery) has keenly propelled his cause, now like the coming Royal Academy show in London. Most interested mainstream professionals ululate praise, to sell paintings or tickets.
  • But what does he SAY?
  • On the polemical / aesthetic spectrum he appears at the aesthetic end? So his work never feels polemical, opinionated? Even the Flag
  • But aesthetically it’s more entertaining than beauteous, more accidental than purposive?
  • And not a portrait in sight! Not even a self portrait?
  • He reminds one of another post WW2 American “giant” inflated by the professional Art Market, Cy Twombly. Both busy, both long winded, both feted, and both recalling Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Though Johns has the edge in delivering more variety.
  • Both have made a good living dining on Art’s prestigious inheritance. Thus the long winded Twombly gave us his scribbled fancy titles from the past, whether or not there was any obvious objective relationship with the visual image.

Norman Wilfred Lewis: Driven to abstraction!

Norman Wilfred Lewis (1909 – 1979, 70)

Driven to abstraction! The discomfiting overlooked outsider who found a freedom in abstraction.

Slavery’s long shadow: authentic front rank NY School Abstract Expressionist painter bypassed one way and another because of his colour.

American art took path of least resistance, tip toed round a leading black painter, discomfited by race and his art.

Ironically his colour stimulated his work, likely encouraged his embrace of abstraction?

 

FEATURED IMAGE….

1936, Fantasy, Oil and ink on canvas, 80 x 102 cm, Courtesy of Leslie Lewis and Christina Lewis Halpern.

COMMENT: How unlikely. Yes there seem allusions here to Kandinsky and perhaps also Paul Klee. But nonetheless here is a striking image from the young (27 year old) painter, just after studying with Augusta Savage and at Columbia University in New York.

 

Overlooked.

  • Norman Lewis’ contribution to American art from just before WW2 though to the 1970s has been profoundly underappreciated, underrated.
  • Lewis has been largely ignored by the mainstream art establishment (critics, museums and the market), in the US and elsewhere, then and until recently (1).
  • But from c1946 he was a front rank New York School Abstract Expressionist (AE) painter. Detached appraisal suggests the substance of his sustained abstraction oeuvre – its distinctive originality and constructive variety – bears comparison with the popularly feted AE big guns.
  • The only obvious material differences were firstly, scale (Lewis did not paint large look-at-me wall fillers, partly because he couldn’t afford the studio space), and, secondly, he did not settle on a catchy marketable artistic device – a signature stylistic template – and pursue it mercilessly, like Pollock’s intense “drip”, Rothko’s Color Field ethereal floating rectangles, Newman’s “zip”, Still’s geological shards, and de Kooning’s coarse Expressionist quasi-figuration.
  • Lewis’ total abstraction oeuvre was striking in variety and its originality, distinctive in a number of aspects: 1/ his calligraphic”, “neural” or “string-bag” abstraction; 2/ his fine linear abstraction, using angular fragments or “shards; 3/ his quasi-figurative, miniature, pictographic “little figures” abstraction; and 4/ his powerful pared black and white / red and white quasi-abstraction.
  • This equivocal mainstream reaction is ironic given the influence of “primitive” African art on modern Western art, and also the recent rapturous art market response to Jean-Michel Basquiat, who was also NY based.

 

Why overlooked? Race.

  • Why was he overlooked, despite the objective quality of his work? The variety of his work is an issue. His very range was a mouthful, though to discerning critics this should be constructive.
  • It’s hard to avoid simply that color, being black, was the issue. His race and his art discomfited the art market, inhibited engagement and detached appreciation.
  • This not necessarily reflected overt racism as much as the path of least resistance (for both the mainstream and “black” art worlds), ie to avoid having to confront the matter of race (inherently controversial in the US because of the sustained injustice, across two centuries), and then Lewis’s particular case, ie first as the only black Abstract Expressionist and second as a painter who personally uttered on the matter, in a number of powerful works.
  • But though Lewis saw himself as a painter first (below) he could hardly avoid not commenting through his work, coinciding as he did with the historic Civil Rights movement which finally in the early 1960s brought remedial historic reform.
  • Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

 

Painter of distinction, ironically in part because of race.

  • Lewis is a painter of distinction, interesting especially because of questions posed by his colour, a predicament not of his choosing.
  • It was a dilemma he could never escape or resolve.
  • Thus as a black painter in the USA he could hardly overlook his people’s mistreatment. But to the extent he responded politically through his art he risked devaluing or compromising his status as a painter, and, more concretely, hurting his income.
  • The real irony was that this dilemma was exacerbated precisely because he was not just a painter but a mainstream painter, the only African-American in the post WW2 New York School. So on the one hand he was under that much more pressure to publically support his people, but on the other had that much more to lose.
  • But near a century after the Civil War African-Americans in the USA still suffered systematic discrimination: comparative electoral disenfranchisement and widespread segregation laws. So as an informed and educated black painter in the USA, and a leading one, he did respond, across his whole adult life, in his personal life and especially through some of his art, through many polemical works, some searing, in both his early Social Realist career and later abstraction.
  • But as a painter, especially as a prominent full-time career painter, he was also concerned to be judged as a generic painter, not to be trapped or devalued by his identity as a “black painter”. Thus he was conscious of art’s aesthetic as well as polemical purpose.
  • But he couldn’t win. If he didn’t protest he let his people down. If he did it cost him. So he did protest and it did cost him, his polemical activity discouraging the commercial interest in, appetite for his work.

 

 

Lewis’ abstraction: encouraged by his colour?

  • As a thoughtful career artist Lewis was obviously aware of abstraction and indeed executed such a work early as 1936. But ironically it seems likely the difficult matter for him of colour was a reason for him finally embracing abstraction, suddenly and for good c1945, as Abstract Expressionism was arriving. It allowed him greater creative freedom, to further a career as a painter, not just a black painter.
  • But again ironically, while abstraction gave him more room to move it also arguably powerfully augmented his political statements, particularly the quasi-representational works in the early 1960s, an historic period of Civil Rights protest and reform.
  • Unlike many or most of the main 20th C abstract painters, Lewis’s abstraction was not ‘spiritual’, rather was motivated by his life experience, particularly music and Harlem city life, but also nature, and politics.

 

Notes.  1/ Lewis’ first large scale full retrospective show did not arrive till 2016, 38 years after he died. Then one of his works (and an important one) did hang in the late 2016 comprehensive Abstract Expressionist exhibition at London’s Royal Academy, the first such comprehensive show in London in over 50 years, since 1959. In the catalogue editor David Anfam rightly flags Lewis, mentions Elaine de Kooning’s support in the wake of his 1949 solo hanging at the Willard Gallery.

 

 

2

Twilight Sounds, 1947. Oil on canvas, 60 x 71 cm, Saint Louis Art Museum. COMMENT: Inspired by music. Recalls Joan Miro?

 

  3

  1. American Totem, Oil on canvas, 191 x 114cm. Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY

 

4

1964, Processional, 94 x 48.3cm, oil on canvas,

COMMENT: Two gripping political images from the tense early 1960s period in the US when Civil Rights protest and (finally) reform was coming to a head. The first refers to an art device used by some native peoples. The second shows what might be a march, white and black people walking together. Through the night of the struggle, daylight ahead?

5

C1960, Alabama, oil on canvas, 122 x 184cm.  COMMENT: This striking work recalls Jackson Pollock’s important late work, The Deep (1953). It was a response to a sit-in at Alabama State University in 1960.

 

6

1962 Evening Rendezvous, oil on linen, 127.7 x 163.3 cm, Smithsonian American Art Museum

COMMENT: A dark political work employing Lewis’s trademark miniaturised stick-figure quasi-abstraction, apparently depicting a nocturnal Klan gathering around a fire. The red white and blue scheme obviously parodies the colours on America’s national flag.

 

7

1962 Bonfire, Oil on canvas, 163 x 127cm, The Studio Museum in Harlem.

COMMENT: Another enigmatic political painting from the same tense early 1960s period

 

8

LEFT: Artists’ sessions at Studio 35, April 1950 (organized by de Kooning and Kline)

Left to right: Seymour Lipton, Norman Lewis, Jimmy Ernst, Peter Grippe, Adolf Gottlieb, Hans Hofmann, Alfred Barr (glasses far end, left), Robert Motherwell, Richard Lippold, Willem de Kooning, Ibram Lassaw, James Brooks, Ad Reinhardt, Richard Poussette-Dart.

9

RIGHT: Artists’ sessions at Studio 35, April 1950

Left to right: David Smith, Seymour Lipton, ??? (behind), Norman Lewis, Jimmy Ernst.

Photos by Aaron Siskind. Courtesy the Ad Reinhardt Foundation.

 

  10

An undated portrait of Norman Lewis. Credit Willard Gallery Archives.

COMMENT: Circa late 1940s? His important Metropolitan Crowd (1946), hangs to left of the artist.

 

11

Portrait c1975.

COMMENT: great photo

 

Jean-Michel Basquiat: ‘Mind-blowing’ art? Well certainly a mind-blowing commercial transaction.

Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988)

 

Untitled” (1982), acrylic, spray paint and oilstick on canvas, 183.2 by 173 cm, just sold for $110.5 million at Sotheby’s auction on Thursday 18th May in New York, bought by a Japanese fan, Yusaku Maezawa , a fashion entrepeneur.

It’s mind-blowing,” said “collector” Mr. Larry Warsh.

Yes clearly a “mind-blowing” commercial transaction.

But “mind-blowing”art?

Well certainly it’s art, but it’s also fashion.

And as they say, money – and fashion – do funny things to people, and the more the money the funnier.

Like the sustained hyberbolic, hagiographical overdrive in Sotheby’s on-line write up of the art work, which dare one say does not come with an obvious disclaimer, ie their vested financial interest in this auction outcome, and in any relevant auctions in the future.

This self-serving commercial market phenomenon – involving dealers, auction houses, museums and collectors – applies to many other artists, usually dead but sometimes still alive. The late Cy Twombly is another prime example.

Yes Mr Basquiat’s work is eye-catching, distinctive.

And this seeds initial interest. But once he is “discovered”, and prices start to move up, the self-perpetuating promotion process takes hold and prices rise ever higher, a virtuous-circle, the process fuelled by its own exhaust.

Thus compare the painting of the moment with five broadly similar works for sale now though Sotheby’s in Paris in June 2017, all in a colourful animated neo-expressionist style, but estimated to sell for between only 10,000 and 200,000 Euros (US$11.2-224k), or 0.01-0.2% of Untitled (1982).

But Untitled (1982) is bigger – and scarier! – so say its art is “worth” 400,000 Euros, then that’s 0.4% art and 96.4% fashion.

On the other hand if Untitled (1982) is worth that much maybe Mr Appel et al are cheap?

Interestingly much the same commercial outcome has happened with the New York Abstract Expressionist (AE) school. Works of the main protagonists were executed soon after WW2 and some have sold for US$50-100m or more. A Pollock sold for US$140m in 2006.

But abstraction was alive and well in Europe at the same time, but these works sell for a tiny fraction of the priciest AE works.

The role of fashion in the matter is highlighted or emphasized by the AE school comprising markedly different abstraction styles, eg compare a Pollock gestural “drip” classic with Barnet Newman’s main works, in a stark simple geometric style. Thus what matters now is not so much the style and content of the painting as the now collectively celebrated specific historic early postwar artistic and commercial experience it was part of.

Compare …………

Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) 1982, Untitled,  acrylic, spray paint and oilstick on canvas, 183.2 by 173 cm,  SOLD FOR US$110.5 million, 18 May 2017, Sotheby’s New York.

 And five similar works for sale in Europe …………..

     2

Karel Appel (1921 – 2006). 1958, UNTITLED, oil on canvas, 81 x 65 cm;                 ESTIMATE 40,000 — 60,000 E

3

Karel Appel (1921 – 2006). 1958. BATAILLE D’ANIMAUX , oil on canvas, 114 x 146 cm;  ESTIMATE 150,000 — 200,000 E

    4

Robert Combas (born 1957), 1989. UNTITLED. acrylic on canvas, 122 x 136,5 cm;  ESTIMATE 15,000 — 20,000 E

5

Toshimitsu Imaï (1928 – 2002), 1963, SOLEIL oil on canvas, 73 x 92 cm. ESTIMATE 30,000 — 50,000 E

6

Carl-Henning Pedersen (1913 – 2007), 1975, THE BLUE EYE AND RED FACE. oil on canvas, 101,2 x 83,5 cm;  ESTIMATE 10,000 — 15,000 E

Jackson Pollock: the Drip helped, but mostly right place, right time.

Paul Jackson Pollock (1912-1956, 44)

The pre-eminent Abstract Expressionist, but owes his reputation mostly to specific historic circumstances?

  • The Main Man (generically) of post WW2 New York Abstract Expressionism (AE)?

  • However Abstract Expressionism was not an art movement, having a coherent artistic common theme (eg compare Pollock and Barnett Newman), as much as an historic happening, a specific collective commercial art historic experience centred on a keen and diverse group of painters in immediate post WW2 New York, the cultural capital of America.

  • So the crazy prices for Pollock’s distinctive large-scale full bore Gestural action abstract paintings mostly reflect the eventual commercial success of AE, driven by powerful vested interests, and underwritten by the large US economy.

  • Thus another large-scale Gesturalist at the same time, French Canadian Jean-Paul Riopelle (1923-2002), who favoured impasto over the drip, sells for peanuts because he chose Paris over New York?

  • There is also the curious case of abstractionist American painter Janet Sobel (1894-1968), who painted “all-over” and whose work Pollock saw in 1944, but who quickly vanished into marriage and the suburbs.

  • However, while taste in art, let alone abstract art, is subjective, Pollock seems rightly to emerge as the pre-eminent AE exponent, for his obvious energetic creativity (especially his trademark intense “drip” paintings), and also the twists in his artistic journey, especially his clutch of final works, poignant and personal, his going away declaration, as alcohol sadly swallowed his life, and he knew it?

1

Jackson Pollock (1912-1956). The Deep, 1953, 150.7 cm × 220.4 cm, Centre Pompidou, Paris.

COMMENT: For its imagery and timing this is perhaps Pollock’s single most intriguing painting? More even than his then recent (1952) and now feted Blue Poles?

It shows a dramatic shift in style from the prolific “drip” phase, striking for its abstraction content quite unlike any other of his paintings.

Here he also returned to assigning a narrative title not another antiseptic number.

It was also among the last few works he would paint.

It means whatever it means to each viewer, but the title – and the timing – certainly suggest it did mean something to the artist. Thus we know in 1953 he was sliding personally, and terminally, having resumed drinking late 1950. A life apparently always near the edge was now surrendering to alcohol, and he obviously knew it. Knew too this time the surrender would likely be terminal.

So it seems deeply personal, poignant.

One obvious reading of the image is of eternity swallowing the “dark” drivers of his life.

SUMMARY

  • Clearly Jackson Pollock is the Main Man of Abstract Expressionism (AE), the best known and the priciest in the art market (though de Kooning and Rothko come close).
  • He is now famous for his expressive Gestural / Action / All-over abstract, ”automatist” “drip” paintings, many large and all executed approximately over the 6 year period 1947-53.
  • This art is claimed by many as “radical” and as distinctly “American”, enthusiastically by some, but mainly by parties with vested interests in the success (price) of this art, like critics, dealers, and collectors (including museums).
  • In reality, objectively, his art was not especially radical, or obviously “American” (other than geographically, ie was executed there), rather it continued the (Western) abstract art revolution which commenced in West Europe just before WW1, and was influenced by the subsequent (post WW1) intervening rise of Surrealism. So these artists simply pushed known approaches / techniques further.
  • Pollock’s competitive angles were, firstly (like most of his colleagues), painting large images, and, secondly, in particular his distinctive abstraction approach, ie particularly the “drip”, intensifying the detailed abstraction content by aggressively applying the drip (and pour) technique.
  • However the stratospheric prices now paid for works by the main AE NY School artists (ie Pollock, de Kooning and Rothko, plus Motherwell, Newman and Still) are driven not so much by their (largely) abstract art being especially different as by the specific historic commercial and artistic circumstances of their early postwar collective artistic experience in New York, by the fact they were Americans (though some were first generation, like Gorky and Rothko) working in New York soon after WW2 (which America had “won”, though helped hugely by Soviet Russia), backed by American money and American dealers and American critics.
  • Meanwhile, as is well known, abstraction was also alive and well in early postwar Europe, Paris and elsewhere.
  • Oddly the New York AE phenomenon benefited greatly from the influx into NY of a bevy of front rank modern European artists (like Duchamp, Masson, Mondrian, Matta) as refugees from the outbreak of WW2, bringing deep experience in abstraction and the two major art movements of Cubism and Surrealism, and their offspring.
  • Pollock was fortuitously helped by another refugee from WW2 Europe, the curious Peggy Guggenheim, another American, who in London just before WW2 launched herself as a keen and successful dealer in modern art. In NY she provided crucial early support for Pollock (mid 1943 – mid 1947).
  • Other ladies were important too, especially wife and fellow artist Lenore (“Lee”) Krasner (1908-84), and major art dealer Betty Parsons, who took up Pollock’s cause after Peggy decamped to Venice mid 1947, ie just as he settled into his signature “drip” phase.
  • Also, as for some other modern cultural “icons” (James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis?) Pollock’s flame was fanned by his short life, marred by tragedy. After having largely stopped serious painting about 3 years earlier, and wracked by alcohol addiction, finally in August 1956 he killed himself at age only 44, in a car he crashed and which – even more sadly – also killed a lady passenger. He had battled alcohol most of his adult life but made periodic progress. However November 25th 1950, after a gap of about 2 years, he resumed drinking and for good.
  • Who knows what this art means?! Especially the later dense drip abstraction. He gave no clues in most of the titles, deliberately, and added nothing much with specific meaning in any other comment.
  • However, while taste in art, let alone abstract art, is subjective, Pollock seems to emerge as the pre-eminent AE exponent, for his obvious creativity (like his trademark intense “drip” painting), and the twists in his artistic journey, especially his clutch of powerful poignant final works, 1952 and 1953, as he sadly succumbed, surrendered to alcohol.
  • Also he mostly let his hands do the talking? He had words to offer too but resisted the wordy self-promotion of some of the AE school, which in some cases reached even unto pretentious babble.
  • Curiously too he was “all American”, born and raised in the West, not settling in New York till he was 34 (1934), and never travelling outside the US.

 

ART / WORK

  • Pollock’s work before 1938 shows the influence of contemporary Regionalist realist Thomas Hart Benton (who taught him in NY 1930), the older Albert Pinkham Ryder (1847-1917), and the Mexican muralists, especially JC Orozco, eg Pollocks’ early The Flame (c1934-38). Also “in a workshop in 1936, the Mexican painter David Siqueiros had encouraged Pollock to fling, pour, and spatter paint.” (MOMA 1988 Pollock exhibition).
  • In 1938 Pollock’s drinking took him to hospital for 4 months for psychiatric treatment, including Jungian psychiatric advice from Dr Joseph Henderson who had him make therapeutic drawings, sparking an interest in “symbolism and Native American art”, reinforced in late 1939 by a Picasso show Pollock saw at MOMA.
  • Also around 1938 he renewed his interest in Mexican artists, like Jose Orozco, Diego Rivera, especially the “epic scale of their murals”. But he “avoided social content of the Mexicans”.
  • And he also showed interest in paintings by El Greco and Max Beckmann?
  • Pollock around 1938 met important well informed Russian-émigré artist–polemicist John Graham (1888-1961) who had arrived New York 1920, after meeting the Parisian avant-garde, including Picasso. In 1937 Graham published “Primitive Art and Picasso” (article, April) and a book, Systems and Dialectics of Art: Re-establish a lost contact with the unconscious.. with the primordial racial past..”, both influential in NY. The book “.. introduces two of Graham’s preoccupations: a mystical connection with his subject and the role of line in expressing sensations”.
  • Pollock’s early 1940s works are symbolic / Surrealist quasi-abstracts, influenced especially by 1/ Picasso; 2/ Surrealism, through interest in Native American art, mythic motifs, part inspired (along with Gorky, M Rothko and de Kooning) by John Graham, and by Jung’s psychoanalysis theories, also favoured by Graham.
  • The interest Surrealism (eg Meditation on an oak leaf 1942, and Pasiphae, 1943) was reinforced by meeting émigré Surrealists from Europe, like Andre Masson (1896-1987) (arrived NY 1941), his . „calligraphic autom line drawings…. swirling lines.. dark colors.. abstract imagery.. poetic titles..“ (Anna Mosynska).
    • Through Lee Krasner around mid 1942 he met William Baziotes, Robert Motherwell and especially Chilean-born Roberto Matta, who arrived New York 1941 from Europe where he was struck by Andre Masson et al.
    • Andre Masson’s style emphasized flatness, but Matta (influenced by Duchamp?) used “spatial ambiguity… whiplash line… large scale canvases”, eg Onyx of Electra (1944), which all influenced the younger artists. “his studio on 9th. a meeting place for Pollock, Motherwell, A Gorky…” (cf Anna Mosynska). Thus Matta became a close friend of A Gorky, R. Motherwell and W. Baziotes.
    • Then Motherwell and Baziotes “went to see Pollock and de Kooning and Hoffmann.. Peggy Guggenheim.. said that she would put on a show… so I [Motherwell] went around explaining the theory of automatism to everybody..”
    • Pollock also used “bright hues of American Indian art”? Pollock 1944: “Their colour is essentially Western, their vision has the basic universality of all real art. Some people find references to American Indian Art and calligraphy in parts of my pictures. That wasn’t intentional; probably was the result of early memories and enthusiasm.”
  • After 1945 motifs become more naturalistic? Partly influenced by his move to Long Island? “I am nature” he once said.
  • Pollock began “pouring” paint by 1943 (cf Composition with Pouring I and II), before his late 1945 move to Long Island, and the famous “drip” arrives fully around 1947, eg especially Full Fathom Five and Phosphorescence, ie formless, all-over, “intense gestural application”, lasting till 1953. Pollock’s “drip” style is a subset of Action Painting.
  • Precise origins of the Drip are debated. He may have seen Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros use painting-pouring in 1936 at a NY workshop. It may have been influenced by his contact with Masson, Matta etc, especially per Surrealist automatism. He may have heard of Max Ernst (Peggy Guggenheim’s husband, then in NY) trying to paint from a swinging can. He may have seen the same method in 1946 used in paintings by Janet Sobel (1894-1968) (born Jennie Lechovsky, in Ukraine), at a Peggy Guggenheim show in a visit with critic Clement Greenberg. And by Indian sand painting he saw in the 1940s.
  • Sounds in the Grass was a series of 7 relatively small paintings over the winter of 1946-47 (ie after moving to Long Island), partly preparation for a Jan 1947 show at Peggy Guggenheim’s gallery. It included Eyes in the Heat, an important lead into the Drip phase.
  • For about 4 years, from 1948 through 1952, he switched to not naming his paintings, assigning them numbers.
  • The Drip phase, during which “a doctor…allayed his drinking with tranquillizers..” largely ended 1951 when he resumed drinking.
  • Then 1951-52 his preferred style changed abruptly when in a series sometimes called “black pourings” he mainly painted in black enamel on unprimed canvas and he revived earlier interest in calligraphical, “glyphic” quasi-abstraction, ie with some “representational elements”.
  • But two final emphatic twists remained.
  • In 1952 he completed two important large all-over “drip” abstracts, especially Blue Poles, also 10, Convergence.
  • And in 1953 followed four different important paintings, especially The Deep, a mighty and intriguing suddenly different abstract work, then Easter and the Totem, and Ocean Greyness, both of which recall much earlier (late 1930s/early 1940s) Pollock abstraction.
  • 1953’s Portrait and a Dream, is another extraordinary final – and again personal? – work, where a (self?) portrait creeps in, alongside a quasi-abstract “reclining female figure”.
  • He painted only two works after 1953 (age 41), one painting (another ‘drip” work) in 1954?
  • Most of Pollock’s earlier works were small? He discovered size through the Mexican muralists, and his first large image was the 1943 Mural.

 

LIFE

  • He was born Wyoming, one of five boys to Stella, nee McClure, and was almost never out of trouble. His family moved about the West. Pollock’s abusive alcoholic father (nee McCoy, Scottish-Irish descent, adopted by Mr and Mrs Pollock) left home in 1920 leaving his older brother Charles, an artist, in charge. Pollock briefly studied art in LA until expelled for fighting.
  • In late 1930, aged only 18, he moved to New York, lived with brother Charles in Greenwich Village and, importantly, studied under Charles’ teacher, well known Regionalist Realist painter Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975) for about 3 years at the Art Student’s League, becoming close to Benton and his family, like sharing summer holidays.
  • Pollock was upset by his father’s death in 1933 and, drunk, started a fight with his brother Charles’ wife, axing one of his brother’s paintings. From 1934 to 1942 he lived with other brother Sanford.
  • He travelled the US widely in the 1930s, settled in NY from 1934. Here importantly he met some prominent Mexican muralist painters, José Clemente Orozco (1883-1949) (later, 1940, Pollock saw him paint a mural at MOMA) and David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896-1974) (Pollock met him in Los Angeles 1932 and worked in his NY workshop, 1936, observed “experiments with nontraditional materials such as enamel paint, and with unconventional techniques of paint application: dripping, pouring, and airbrushing”).
  • The US Government’s Depression alleviating WPA program (cf Krasner, de Kooning, Rothko etc) paid some money from 1937-1943.
  • In 1938 he was 4 months in hospital for his alcoholism.
  • He briefly met Lee Krasner (1908-84) Xmas 1936, then again August 1942, marrying her Oct.1945. She became a key supporter, thus introduced him to her teacher, important refugee German abstract painter Hans Hoffman (1880-1966), also to Herbert Matter.
  • 1941 Pollock saw a Miró retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.
  • His first NY show Jan 1942 was part of the McMillen Gallery’s American and French Painting, selected by John Graham, and alongside de Kooning, Krasner, Stuart Davis and some from Europe: Picasso, Matisse, Braque, Bonnard and Modigliani.
  • Spring 1942, “.. [Herbert] Matter invites James Johnson Sweeney to visit Pollock’s studio. Sweeney tells Peggy Guggenheim that Pollock is “doing interesting work” … suggests she visit the studio.”
  • Autumn 1942, Roberto Matta (1911-2002), with Motherwell’s support, wants to break with Breton’s Surrealists, and form their own “automatist artists” group. Pollock dines with them at Matta’s apartment on 12th but “becomes frustrated with the group”.
  • 1942 / Jan. 1943 the Met. Museum Of Art shows his The Flame (c1934-38) in Artists for Victory.
  • Peggy Guggenheim (1898-1979) becomes a major supporter. She opens her Art of This Century (AOTC) Gallery Oct 1942. She meets Pollock early 1943 at the (Solomon) Guggenheim’s Museum of Non-Objective Painting (where JP is working from May, as a “carpenter”?), shows his work in a group show (Spring Salon for Young Artists) at AOTC, May/June 1943, especially on the advice of older famous refugee abstract painter Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) (“I’m trying to understand what’s happening here. I think this is the most interesting work I’ve seen so far in America. . . . You must watch this man“).
  • On the advice of writer/dealer Howard Putzel (1898–1945) she visits his studio 23rd June 1943, but resists a solo show until 20th C art legend Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) visits and recommends it. Pollock’s first solo show (15 oils plus other works), hangs at AOTC in November 1943. It is the first solo show there by an American artist.
  • From July 1943 she paid JP a stipend for output, and she also commissioned what would become a famous mural for her NY town house on East 61st, executed Dec.1943 / Jan.1944.
  • Following the November 1943 solo show, on the advice of Duchamp, also Matta etc she then hung him as part of her AOTC show, Natural, Insane, Surrealist Art, with Calder, Klee, Masson, Motherwell etc.
  • PG held his second solo show March / April 1945, the third April 1946, the fourth Jan./Feb.1947.
  • She also helped he and Krasner buy a farmhouse on Long Island by Nov. 1945, heralding the “drip period” from 1947 through 1950, also now using alkyd enamel house paints.
  • May 1944 MOMA bought The She-Wolf (1943), recommended by Soby and Sidney Janis (1896-1989) (Head Acquisitions Committee) to Alfred C Barr.
  • In 1944 Pollock showed in Abstract and Surrealist Art in America (1944), organized by Sidney Janis (who published a book of same title) at the Mortimer Brandt Gallery, NY.
  • March 1945 he showed at the Arts Club of Chicago, then March/April at NY AOTC, drawing strong critical support from Clement Greenberg (1909-94).
  • 1946 / Jan. 1947, he showed for the first time in “the Whitney Annual”, the Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting at Whitney Museum of American Art.
  • 1947, April/May, Mural was shown by MOMA.
  • Peggy Guggenheim closed AOTC May 1947,
  • May / Sep. 1948 he was hung at 23rd Venice Biennale.
  • Peggy Guggenheim mounted Pollock’s first solo European show in July / Aug. 1950, in Venice. Thence he showed in Florence and Rome.
  • His “drip” paintings were first shown in Jan. 1948, 17 paintings at Betty Parson (1900-82)’s NY gallery (his 5th one man show in NY, the same year as de Kooning’s first show), to a quiet reaction, but “favourable reviews”.
  • His second Betty Parsons show was Jan./Feb.1949, a big show, including 26 works from 1948. “Critical response is varied”. And third solo show followed Nov./Dec 1949, with 35 works.
  • A famous 4-page spread on Pollock appeared in Life magazine, 9th1949, (“Is he the greatest living painter in the United States”) brought overnight success and changed their lives. In 1950 he was chosen by MOMA’s Alfred H Barr Jr for the US pavilion at 25th Venice Biennale (with Gorky and de Kooning).
  • Summer 1950 he was interviewed by William Wright for a radio program.
  • 1950, May, he signed a joint letter initiated by Barnett Newman attacking The Metropolitan Museum of Art for “contempt for modern painting. . . .”. Oct./Nov. 1950 he was hung in a group show (Young Painters in U.S. & France) by the Sidney Janis Gallery (opened 1948), and Nov./Dec. in a 4th solo show at Betty Parsons.
  • October 1950 he appeared in an influential Life magazine article on modern art, “along with Picasso, Miró, Georges Rouault, Matisse, Willem de Kooning, Adolph Gottlieb, William Baziotes, and Theodoros Stamos”.
  • 1951, January, Life published a photo of him among the Irascibles, 14 artists protesting the Met museum’s views on “contemporary” art. Nov./ Dec. saw a 5th solo show at Betty Parsons.
  • His first show in Paris was part of the 1952, Un Art Autre, catalogue by Tachisme writer Michel Tapie. April / July he appeared in a MOMA show.
  • Unhappy with sales at Betty Parsons Gallery in mid 1952 he moved “across the hall” to Sidney Janis, who mounted a solo show Nov. 1952. A 2nd followed Feb. 1954, and a 3rd/ Dec. 1955, though he was producing little new art then.
  • 1953, from April he appears in an American contemporary art show in Paris, thence 5 other cities.
  • But he did not handle growing fame well, and (November 25th 1950) resumed drinking, and stayed back. He also mostly (but not entirely, cf Blue Poles later in 1952) gave up the “drip”, retreating to mostly black and white paintings.
  • He also he mostly gave up name titles for his paintings, using numbers and dates.
  • Lee Krasner’s career was gaining traction (eg show by BP late 1951 etc) but in attending to the ailing Pollock she stopped painting and also asked his mother for help.
  • By 1956 he had stopped painting, kept drinking, and was seeing other women. Krasner took a break in Paris. And 11 August a drunk Pollock crashed his car a mile from home, killing himself and a lady passenger.
  • Krasner returned to the US to bury him. She also carefully managed his estate, the disposal of his remaining art, set up the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, and finally returned to her own art.
  • MOMA’s planned mid-career show for JP became an impromptu retrospective, Dec 1956 / Feb.1957.

 

QUOTES

  • “It seems to me that the modern painter cannot express this age, the airplane, the atom bomb, the radio, in the old forms of the Renaissance or of any other past culture.”
  • “The strangeness will wear off and I think we will discover the deeper meanings in modern art.”
  • My paintings do not have a center, but depend on the same amount of interest throughout.”
  • “It doesn’t make much difference how the paint is put on as long as something has been said. Technique is just a means of arriving at a statement.”
  • When I’m painting, I’m not aware of what I’m doing. It’s only after a get acquainted period that I see what I’ve been about. I’ve no fears about making changes for the painting has a life of its own.”

APPENDICES

 Abstract Expressionism: not a coherent art movement, rather a specific historic collective art experience

 Abstract Expressionism was NOT an art movement in the sense of having a coherent artistic common there, a distinct artistic style and purpose.

About its only common theme was, simply, abstraction.

Its specific content comprised two „schools“ of abstraction styles:

1/ Expressive, Gestural.

Two subsets were i/ Intense „Automatiste“ Action Painting, like Pollock;

and ii/ broad coarse motifed abstration, like Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning (who also often included figuration), Robert Motherwell, and Clifford Still.

2/ Flat colour patch

Two subsets were i/ Color Field abstraction, like Mark Rothko;

and ii/ sharp-edged geometric abstraction, like Barnett Newman.

Rather the only useful definition of Abstract Expressionism is as a specific historic collective art experience or context, by a keen and diverse group of painters in New York soon after WW2, the first main images emerging in second half of the 1940s.

After a slow start it eventually became very successful commercially mainly because of keen support from dealers / galleries, museums and critics, underwritten by the large buoyant American economy. Once substantial success emerged – by the late 1950s? – then the mutual vested interests worked hard to sustain it, build on the momentum.

The diverse artistic content was essentially not radical, rather it derived and evolved from, capitalised on the crucial pioneering period for abstract art just before / during ww1, around 1910-1915, ie about 30years earlier.

But it was eye-catching, and therefore marketable. It was often large and striking in imagery, perhaps epitomised by Pollock’s densely intricate „drip“ paintings, and by Rothko’s atmospheric color patch works, at opposite ends of a spectrum.

EUROPEAN early postwar abstraction movements: paralleling New York Abstract Expressionism

All the labels below seem to overlap, to a greater or lesser degree. Though there is some contradiction? Most of these artists acknowledged important roots in Surrealism, but some (eg COBRA) rejected Surrealism?

All these movements clearly overlap with (American) Abstract Expressionism in terms of:

  1. time period, ie mid 40s to mid 50s, ie reflecting the aftermath of the macro-violence of WW2.
  2. image content
  3. image purpose

Thus many of these European “AE” images appear close to many from the “authentic” New York AE school, but they were European not US images.

They have been accorded far less market attention because of a vastly different commercial context in Europe after WW2.

  • Informalism? / Art Informel? / Tachisme / Abstraction lyrique? Art Informel was a term coined by important French art critic Michel Tapié in his 1952 book, Un Art Autre (“Art of Another Kind”) which strongly promoted modern art and especially then in France, Tachisme, a French term (from “tache” = stain) first used ~ 1951 by two French critics. It is also referred to as the School of Paris but in reality was very similar to AE? Spontaneous but meaningful “non form” abstract works, including calligraphy / dripping, in part a reaction to Cubism?
  • Important painters included: “Wols (1913-51), Jean Fautrier, Jean Dubuffet, the Catalan Antoni Tapies, the Italian Alberto Burri, George Mathieu, Nicholas De Stael, Serge Poliakoff, Hans Hartung, and Pierre Soulages.
  • And abstractionist Jean-Paul Riopelle who arrived Paris 1947 from Montreal, Canada, where he was part of Bordhaus’ important Les Automatistes.
  • This “warm” Expressive purposeful abstraction was in opposition to “cold” Geometric Abstraction, eg that stemming in particular from Mondrian, van Doesburg etc from Netherlands.
  • However Tapié’s book also served to simultaneously help promote American AE in Europe, and Tapie also helped prepare the catalogue for J Pollock’s first Paris show, in 1952.
  • There were relevant abstract art movements at the same time in England (St Ives), Germany and Italy.
  • Lyrical Abstraction / Abstraction Lyrique? Confusing term? Used mainly France, Europe? Makes sense only as opposite of “cold” superficial unthinking Geometric Abstraction?
  • CoBrA? (Copenhagen / Brussels/ Amsterdam). Movement formed by 5 artists in a Paris café 8 Nov 1948! Defined by: “complete freedom of colour and form… antipathy to Surrealism…. Spontaneity and experiment… [draw on] ..children’s drawings.. primitive art forms.. work of Klee and Miro..”. Like AE they favoured expressive immediacy of the gesture“!
  • They were opposed to Geometric Abstraction and (French) Social Realism. And they were more “political” than French abstraction? The group disbanded 1951. It included Karel Appel, Pierre Alechinsky.

   WORKS by Jean-Paul Riopelle

2

Jean-Paul Riopelle (1923 – 2002). 1951, Espagne, huile sur toile, 150 x 232 cm, Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, Québec, Canada

3

Jean-Paul Riopelle (1923 – 2002). Abstraction (Orange), 1952 Oil on canvas; 99 x 197.5 cm, Museu Coleção Berardo, Lisboa, Portugal

COMMENT: Museum, This work by Jean-Paul Riopelle belongs to the period of the so-called Grandes mosaïques, which occurred roughly between 1950 and 1960. The painted works – produced with palette knife and spatula – are made up of multi-coloured elements of notable thickness, superimposed and animated with extensive, vigorous lines. Large shapes dominate. It can be said that these ‘mosaics’ are undoubtedly inspired by those of St. Mark’s Basilica, which made a big impression on Riopelle during a trip to Venice in 1947. Very different from Pollock’s ‘dripping’ works, Riopelle paints on a canvas placed vertically on the easel; there is nothing ‘gestural’ about his work. Despite the given title (also referred to as untitled), this kind of painting is, for Riopelle, a means to express and share his strong relationship with nature. AC

 

SELECTED WORKS by Jackson Pollock

   4

Going West, 1934. Important early work, influence of TH Benton and Surrealism?

5

The Flame, c1934-38, Oil on canvas mounted on fiberboard, 51.1 x 76.2 cm, MOMA

 

6

1942, Stenographic Figure, Oil on linen, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 40 x 56 in

 

8

Mural, 1943, 247 x 605 cm, Gift of Peggy Guggenheim, 1959. University of Iowa Museum of Art.      COMMENT: Commissioned by Peggy Guggenheim for her NY townhouse. This is an important transitional work, towards all-over abstraction. Notice it is large, his first big painting? Part influenced by Mexican realist painters?

 10

1947. Full Fathom Five, 2 x 76.5 cm, MOMA.COMMENT: One of the first full bore “drip” paintings, but notice it is still relatively small.

11

Janet SOBEL (1894-1968). Untitled, 1946, 45.5 x 35.5 cm. COMMENT: Pollock saw Sobel’s work at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century Gallery in 1944, “where it was seen and admired by both Pollock and Clement Greenberg, who later cited it as the first instance of ”all-over” painting he had seen. Sidney Janis wrote the catalogue preface for her solo show at Guggenheim’s gallery in 1946, noting her ”self-invented method for applying paint.””, ‘Roberta Smith, NY Times, 2002.

12

1948, Number 5, 244 x 122cm, private. COMMENT: One of Pollock’s major early Drip paintings. Sold for US140$m in 2006. Being larger helped.

13

  1. 1950. One: No 31, 270 x 531cm (8′ 10″ x 17′ 5 5/8″), MOMA.COMMENT: One of Pollock’s largest paintings. He retitled it „One“ because he felt one with it!? A large signature Drip painting.

14

 

1952, Blue Poles (No. 11), oil on canvas, 4.87 x 2.1 m, National Gallery of Australia Canberra. COMMENT: Originally titled, Number 11. The picture is important for departing from the pure all-over abstraction approach, by now introducing forms, structure, through “poles”. Whatever they might mean.

15

Ocean Greyness, 1953, 146.7 x 229 cm Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao. COMMENT: Like Easter and the totem here the very late Pollock, in one of his final paintings, returns to the coarse textured, “glyphic” Surrealist like abstraction of his early years? Even going back to “The Flame” of 1934-38?

16

Portrait and a Dream, 1953, 342.2 x 148.5 cm. Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. COMMENT: a very personal painting.

‘Blue Poles’ shelters.. a red rider on a yellow horse!

Blue Poles (1952) shelters.. a red rider on a yellow horse!

 

Jackson Pollock (1912-1956, 44)

 

FEATURED: 1952, Blue Poles, (DETAIL, far right), 212.1 cm × 488.9 cm; enamel and aluminium paint with glass on canvas, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

 

The Yellow Horse!

Le Cheval Jaune!

Gelb Pferd!

 

A red rider!

Un cavalier rouge!

Ein rot fahrer!

 

Surely these eyes are not the first to notice, but unmistakeably there they are far right, nuzzling the Eighth Pole, a yellow horse partnering a red rider.

No doubt it as not intentional.

But who knows.

And, if not, who knows if he didn’t perhaps notice it afterwards, which might have appealed to his earlier occasional Surrealist dabblings.

Anyway it’s an image redolent of metaphorical possibilities.

And speaking of yellow horses Franz Marc (1880-1916, who also found a dark end in this dimension) immediately raises a ghostly hand.

Ah ha, a portent!

2

Franz Marc (1880-1916, 36), 1912, Little yellow horses, oil, 104 x 66cm, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, Stuttgart, Germany.

 

5

1952, Blue Poles (formerly Number 11, 1952), and details. Enamel and aluminium paint with glass on canvas, 212.1 cm × 488.9 cm, National Gallery of Australia (NGA), Canberra

Jackson Pollock (1912-1956, 44)

The Main Man of Abstract Expressionism, but owes his reputation mainly to specific historic circumstances.

  • The Main Man of post WW2 New York Abstract Expressionism (AE).
  • But the crazy prices for his distinctive large-scale full bore Gestural action abstract paintings mostly reflect specific historic circumstances, the collective commercial and artistic circumstances of the New York School, the Abstract Expressionism art movement in the cultural capital of postwar America, soon after W2, rather than any intrinsic value?
  • So another large-scale Gesturalist at the same time, Canadian Jean-Paul Riopelle (1923-2002) sells for peanuts because he chose Paris over New York.

Though there’s no doubt Pollock’s distinctive intense “drip” painting method fans his appeal.       

John Marin. More derivative than a driver? And played within a small sandpit?

 

John Marin (1870-1953, 82)

More derivative than a driver? And narrow: played within a small sandpit?

Big time in own time but not now: eclipsed by his US peers!

 

(Featured image: 1922, The Red Sun, Brooklyn Bridge, watercolor with opaque watercolor, scraping, and wiping, and fabricated charcoal with stumping, on thick, rough-textured, ivory wove paper (all edges trimmed), 542 x 665 mm. Art Institute of Chicago)

 

  • Important American modernist painter who had his moments
  • He fed off the European pioneers. But:
    • He did not innovate? More derivative than a driver?
    • He was narrowly focussed, monotonous, in subject and style.
    • And stayed there, marked time across near 40 years?
  • Despite closely overlapping a revolution in Modernist art!
  • Always representational, strayed near abstraction but was never abstract.
  • But only ever painted outdoors. No figurative work.
  • Why was he popular in his time? Because he remained generally accessible, and painted appealing distractions from the turmoil and press of modern life.
  • And why forgotten? Eclipsed, ironically, by his barnstorming US peers!

 

SUMMARY

John Marin had his moments

Images which catch include some among the Weehawkin series of pocket-sized oils (early, c1910-16, painted fresh from Europe), like some other early watercolours (Red sun, Brooklyn Bridge, 1915), and later watercolours (Cape Split, Maine, 1941), and some of his later energetic, vigorous expressive seascape oils (like Gray sea, 1938, Two boats and sea, Cape Split, 1941, and Sea and boat fantasy, 1944). Nudes in Sea (1940) is striking too for its figures!?

 But overall he played within a small sandpit?

He was basically a side player? In particular he did not really innovate, remained more derivative than a driver?

And his realist art was narrowly focussed in subject and style, remained broadly within a narrow ambit across about 40 years.

…. a late starter

His known work did not emerge till he was around 40, c1910, with the Weehawkin series (named for the town where he was raised by two aunts, or maternal grandparents?), about 100 small oil sketches completed c1910-16.

But watercolours predominated until when in the 1930s (now in his 60s) he turned also to larger scale oil paintings, though still generally small.

…narrow in subjects.

Thus he only ever painted outdoors, especially landscapes (especially the sea and coasts, especially in Maine) and some cityspaces, especially New York.

He was always representational, like Picasso never abstract, though obviously straying towards, near abstraction in some of his landscapes.

There is virtually no figurative work, even in his urban paintings. No genre paintings, no interiors, still lives and in particular no portraits.

In terms of image content he never painted Modern Life.

… and style.

His art style, in both watercolours and oils, from woe to go remained narrowly constrained: variations on ragged, loose-limbed generally colourful Cubist-hued quasi-abstraction, and later, to an extent, on expressionism.

His early Weehawkin series clearly reflects his pre WW1 exposure to the radical currents in Europe – the bold Fauvist colouring and the dissonant Cubist fragmentation – and some of his later oils recall Expressionism, in brush strokes if not color.

After a burst of color in the Weehawkin series his palate later was generally more muted, less exuberant.

Despite his life overlapping dramatic, radical change in visual art.

His life span, from 1870 to the early 1950s, closely overlapped a revolution in visual art, which moreover he saw first hand when he visited Europe for about 5 years (1905-10, age 35-40) during a dramatic period in modern art.

So his whole career was backdropped by ongoing restless experiment and change in Modernist art: the pre WW1 birth and development of abstraction, the post WW1 eruption of Surrealism.

Marin and Abstract Expressionism?

Through the 1940s his art seems to have interacted with the emerging Abstract Expressionists (AE). Marin in his 70s and well known was no doubt familiar to the emerging younger artists but it’s unclear how much he influenced Pollock et al? Like through his quasi-abstract “Expressionist” landscapes? But he in turn may have fed off the younger artists? Eg his Landscape (1951).

In this AE context however one observation comes to mind, namely the horizontal bands of sky colour Marin uses in at least two modest size watercolours on paper (not oils), from 1940 (Nudes in Sea) and 1941(Cape Split, Maine) clearly resonate with Rothko’s similar later famous Color Field bands.

Once was famous.

Marin is now not well known to the lay public, outside the museums and galleries, but his acclaim grew steadily in his time so by later in his career he was among the most esteemed living artists in America.

Thus in 1942, critic Clement Greenberg enthused: “it is quite possible that he is the greatest living American painter.” And “In 1948 a Look magazine poll of museum directors and critics had him as American’s foremost artist. And in 1950 he was the most prominently featured artist in Alfred Barr’s selection of seven painters — including Arshile Gorky, Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock — for the American pavilion of the 25th Venice Biennale.” (Ken Johnson, New York Times, August 2011)

Why was he so popular in his lifetime?

Probably because through his landscapes he remained generally accessible, because his style was fashionably “modern” but not radical. Thus he did not succumb to abstraction.

But also his oeuvre definitely leans toward an aesthetic purpose and not towards any uncomfortable polemical or didactic mission.

Unlike some other modern realist painters – like David Bomberg, Stuart Davis, Fernand Leger – he never painted, engaged with Modern Life, except for a passing reference to skyscrapers in New York.

Thus generally he painted appealing distractions from the turmoil and press of modern life, did not comment on it.

And why no longer popular?

Because he was overtaken, eclipsed by fashionable new twists in the rollicking onward journey of modern art, and (ironically) especially by events in his US homeland, by the post WW2 rush for Abstract Expressionism (the New York School, their success partly driven by the buoyant “victorious” relatively prosperous US), thence by Pop and beyond.

 LIFE

John Marin was born and raised in New Jersey, early worked as an architectural draughtsman, then 1899 to 1901 studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. He called at the Art Students League in NY in 1905 before that year travelling to Europe for 5 years (visiting Paris, Holland, Belgium, England, Italy, and Austrian Tyrol in 1910), returning permanently to NY in 1911.

Alfred Stieglitz staged his first one man show in 1909 at his Gallery 291 in New York, and the pair worked together 40 years (as he also supported O’Keefe and Arthur Dove). In 1913 he exhibited in the famous Armory Show.

He strongly preferred landscapes, usually wintered in New Jersey, then often summered in northeastern rural locations, especially coastal Maine.

His first retrospective was in 1920, in NY. Early 1926 collector Duncan Phillips bought his first Marin, and became a big supporter. 1936 MOMA held a retrospective, one of the first for an American artist.

Beyond Maine, Marin visited Europe (though only once), New England, New Mexico (around Taos) and the Hudson River Valley.

 

 Select Works……………

              aa1                         

c1916. Weehawken sequence No. 30, oil on canvas board, 11 3/4 x 9 in, Phillips Collection

 

aa3

1925. Back of Bear Mountain, watercolor and charcoal, 43 x 51cm (17 x 20 in.), Phillips Collection

 

aa4

1938. Grey Sea, oil on canvas, 55.9 x 71.1cm, National Gallery, Washington

aa5

1940. Nudes in Sea, Watercolor with blotting, wiping, and scraping, and black crayon, with brown colored pencil, on heavyweight, moderately textured, ivory wove paper (all edges trimmed), in original frame, 39.1 x 53.3cm; Art Institute of Chicago

aa7

_16, 10/15/10, 2:49 PM, 8C, 4790×5887 (246+602), 88%, Custom, 1/60 s, R116.1, G89.6, B85.8

  1.  Sea and boat fantasy. Oil on canvas, 71 x 87cm (28 × 34 1/4 in.). Private?

 

aa8

  1. Hurricane. Oil on canvas, 64 cm × 76 cm (25 x 30 in.), Indianapolis Museum of Art.

 

 aa10

  1.  Landscape, collection?