Monday, 27 January 2014

The Rediscovery of Jackson Pollock

I have recently started watching a series of lectures by UC Berkeley Practice of Art from Spring 2011 edition. In his lecture Introduction to Visual Thinking Professor John S. McNamara has asked the class (of probably freshmen, mostly American students) whether they know and like Jackson Pollock. Those, who “really respond to his work” were “a small number of a small number”. I felt some disappointment in the speaker’s voice, so probably to somehow justify such a low awareness the lecturer added that Pollock is “a very hard artist to understand”.

Myself, I have been first introduced to Pollock back in 2004 when as a Business major student, I was also allowed to take art studio classes at Baskin Visual Arts Center that turned into the brightest memories of my entire year at UCSC. Professor Frank Galuszka was very passionate about Pollock and his dripping technique, but at that time I was more into Kandinsky basing my paintings on his color theory after reading Concerning the Spiritual in Art 1910 book. 

The rediscovery of Jackson Pollock happened back in early October 2013 thanks to Pollock and The Irascibles – The New York School at Palazzo Reale, a part of Autunno Americano cultural project that brought Whitney Museum of American Art collection, including one of the most famous Pollock's painting Number 27 (1951), to Milan. Even those who do not like abstract expressionism or are as indifferent as I was before, will find it interesting to attend. Well-curated, with only few minor defects such as broken light (that is probably fixed by now) was giving a special shadow effect to Morris Louis painting, a video presentation by Luca Beatrice only in Italian (watch here) and a bit confusing flow/signage as well as an odd location of a gift shop inside the exhibition space instead of being adjacent to it (right after the first room, yet, with the entrance from the last exhibition hall), the show is a great way to discover and to learn about the first pure American art movement and its key figures. While the focus is on Pollock, exhibition represents other painters of post-war USA such as William De Kooning, Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell, Ad Reinhardt, Clifford Still, Bradley Walker Tomlin, Richard Pousette-Dart. The Irascibles or Irascible 18, as they were called after submitting an open letter to New York's Metropolitan Museum director boycotting American Painting Today - 1950 exhibition are depicted on a famous photograph dressed up in suits as respectful bankers (except Pollock who already made a huge effort by taking off his favorite jeans and wearing a suit)

In addition, the exhibition has a good mix of learning and fun thanks to video installation showing dripping technique in action as a step-by-step digital process or an option to lay down on a comfy sofa and look up where an extract of Jackson Pollock 51 documentary by Hans Namuth is screened. As far as I know, this is the only time when Pollock was speaking on camera when he was making a painting. 

the digital step-by-step process creates a white space on the floor into Pollock's Number 27 painting. Click here to learn more about this artowrk

A brilliant idea of placing the visitors below the screen with the video gives an effect of Pollock painting on you

Jackson Pollock 51 (1951) documentary by Hans Namuth, full movie

The sound is not the greatest, so here's the extract on Jackson Pollock's attitude to painting

I enjoy working on a large canvas. I feel more at home, more at ease, in a big area. 

Having the canvas on the floor I feel nearer, more a part of the painting. This way I can walk around it, work from all four sides and be in the painting, similar to the Indian sand painters of the West. 

Sometimes I use a brush but often prefer using a stick. Sometimes I pour the paint straight out of the can. I like to use a dripping fluid paint. I also use sand, broken glass, pebbles, string, nails, or other foreign matter. 

A method of painting is a natural growth out of a need. I want to express my feelings rather than illustrate them. 

Technique is just a means of arriving at a statement. When I am painting I have a general notion as to what I am about. I can control the flow of the paint. 

There is no accident, just as there is no beginning and no end. Sometimes I lose a painting, but I have no fear of changes...of destroying the image. Because a painting has a life of its own, I try to let it live.

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