Saturday, April 18, 2009

What's that Painting?

Abstract art in its different forms is a bit of an anomaly to me. I have decided to try to understand it better and in order to do that I have to understand the artists. I do appreciate the internal origins of abstract art and in fact put more value on it than the ability to copy what one sees. I cannot have any interest in hyper-realism or photo realism beyond an appreciation for technique and technique is not art. But this internal world, what is coming out of the artist is an endless fascination.

A few months ago we made another trip into the district to visit the National Gallery of Art which houses Jackson Pollock's "Number 1, 195o (Lavender Mist)." I went mostly to get my Van Gogh fix and to look at Rothko's work which I posted about earlier. I took a photo of Craig in front of Pollock's painting and reminded myself to put the movie "Pollock" in my Netflix que and finally received and watched it this weekend.

I can say I have a greater understanding and sympathy for Pollock and his work after seeing the movie which is based on the Pulitzer Prize winning book "Jackson Pollock: An American Saga." On You Tube I found a clip of a movie made in the 50's of the artist working and below were at least 1oo comments marking every spot on the spectrum of opinions. Not much has changed. His work is still as controversial as it was in his time. Sometimes it seems the more ugly and hateful a critic is about an artist the more it appears that they are only jealous of the success and recognition of that artist. I can totally see right through that sort of criticism aimed at Pollock even to this day.

In thinking about the drip paintings, whether they are a mindless and reckless slinging of paint or carefully thought out paintings is up for debate, but one thing is for certain, they are original. Jackson was in the right place, at the right time in the culture with an original idea. Note that any artist who would paint that way now would be considered as copying Pollock because it was a style uniquely his. I think this is worth something. It cannot be repeated.

It is interesting to me that the drip paintings, or "action paintings", only encompass a portion of his work. Both his early and late works incorporated the figure and I suppose not many would recognize these works. I decided to post an earlier painting of Pollock's for this week's "What's that Painting." It is still abstract, but not of the drip period and thus probably relatively overlooked.

"The She-Wolf", 1943, Oil, Gouche, and Plaster on Canvas



sam said...

They are at very different ends aren't they? Photorealists and abstract workers. I can appreciate the skill of someone who manages to paint realistically, but I do know what you mean about photorealists who seem to trace a photograph, not exactly creative.
There is a lot of abstract work out there at the minute, it seems more popular than any other style of painting, maybe because people just want something to match the colour of their walls or furniture.
The question is why are so many artists going down this route. Is it market supply and demand? I dont think the creation of art should be like a production line.
Maybe it is the quest for that all important originality and the creation of something different. I think anyone with such originality as Pollock should be praised and they will be remembered. Its the same as van Gogh, such originality (my favourite artist BTW!) and he will always be remembered even though his art was never appreciated at the time. Well I will stop now i could debate this for days!

L.Holm said...

Do you have to understand the artists better to understand the paintings? Interesting question. I've wondered the same about great writers. We are so contextually driven. All art is an abstraction. It's just a matter of spectrum. There are some photorealists who surpass mere technical prowess, in my opinion, and tap that same visceral response that great non-representational works do. I have seen Pollack's early work, and it's interesting to see his trajectory. Mondrian continued to paint the most amazing flowers in relative secret because objective painting was out of fashion.
I think there's room for all, and value in any work that touches some primal place in all of us. Sam's work moves beyond technical illustration to the mystical. Akiko's sphynx does. As does your work.
ok, gonna take my own tortured self back to my easel now, and shut up! : )

L.Holm said...

( I mean Pollock. Can't spell or type!)

Thanks for your thought-provoking and interesting posts, Tracey.

Sheila said...

Okay... I have been hesitant to comment because I have no art degree and I am still a novice in the art world. After reading your post twice ( okay two and a half times) I am now wishing you taught that one course in art history I took in college Tracey. You have a unique way of presenting something and giving enough information to provoke dialog and debate to get my BrainWork-ing...

I saw my first Pollock at the NY MOMA last year. I don't remember the title and to tell you the truth, even though it was bigger than I thought it would be, I was a little underwhelmed. I think I was more impressed by the photographs I've seen of his works. This is curious because it is the opposite reaction for the other great paintings I've seen in museums. Maybe it was dingier than I expected. Perhaps they hadn't dusted it in a while with all those swirls catching the dust and dander all day.

I agree Pollock's painting were groundbreaking because as you wrote, no one had done this before. How brave he was to even think this would be considered fine art.

So Pollock has his place in Art History, and I guess I feel fortunate we have the newer generation of Masters' work(present company included) for me to discover and enjoy.