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"Jackson broke the ice", said Willem de
Kooning, about rival Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollock.
The Museum of Modern Art has mounted the first United States retrospective of Pollock's work in thirty years, an almost exhaustive review of over 150 paintings, works on paper and sculptures spanning the 1930's through 1956. The works are displayed in more or less chronological order so the genesis and development of Pollock's style may be observed, from his first images of figures and animals through the classic "drip" period, to his last disturbing works.
A clearly troubled man, Pollock filled his early canvases with darkly sexual and feral imagery, painted with grim and violent intensity. Throughout the 1940's Pollock developed and refined his stylistic vocabulary. Stereographic Figure (1942) is harshly dark with violent bursts of bright, clear color, perhaps a wartime reflection. Night Sounds (1944) again contrasts bleak, dark areas with glowing scratches of brilliant color. In contrast, Mural (1943), painted for Peggy Guggenheim's apartment, is large scaled and lovely, its calligraphic forms sensuous in their fluid rhythms.
By 1947 Pollock arrived at his signature painting technique, which involved pouring, dripping and flinging paint onto large canvases, creating densely filled works that are often exhilarating in their sense of freedom and blindingly complex as well. Eschewing traditional brush strokes, the paintings manage to convey a childlike naivete, cloaked in enormous sophistication. No. 13A, 1948: Arabesque is stunning in its minimalist palette, while Number1A, 1948 incorporates the artist's hand prints in a silver enamel vortex. By merely filling in some of the voids created by the paint he flung, Summertime: Number9A, 1948 becomes graphic and emblematic.
Viewing large works such as Autumn Rhythm Number 30, 1950 and One: Number 31, 1950 is an almost overwhelming experience, bordering perhaps on the miraculous. One must view these paintings from a variety of perspectives,moving in and out, focusing on both the macro and microscopic elements embodied therein.
Bouts of severe depression and ongoing alcoholism in the early 1950s led to a decrease in Pollock's output. A series of austere black enamel paintings thoroughly rebuke the earlier vibrant masterpieces. In what appears to be a final burst of glory, Pollock painted his disturbing masterwork Blue Poles, a shocking return to brilliant coloration and densely aggressive rhythms.
Pollock's last years were exploring a variety of new approaches, including brush work, creating surprisingly light, clear colored and almost pretty paintings such as Easter & the Totem. He died in an auto accident in 1956, at the age of 44.
The retrospective includes a re-creation of Pollock's Long Island City studio, dissertations on his various technological aspects, films of the artist painting, and works by his peers.
- Mark Kane