Pollock's works, like the man himself, are too self-centered and chaotic to enjoy.
By Kevin Somers
Published September 28, 2007
I just watched "Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock?" a funny, lively, documentary about a feisty old lady who inadvertently buys a Pollock at a thrift shop for $5 and goes on a mission to have it authenticated. A scientist / art specialist from Montreal eventually proves, through fingerprints, paint samples, and style, that the canvas is, without doubt, a Pollock original.
Preposterous, pretentious wankers from the art world, who claim their expertise superior to forensic evidence, won't have it, though, and reject any notion the work is Pollock's. One "expert," who has millions tied up in Pollock's schlock, gets up close and personal with the canvas before saying, " ... it doesn't look like a Pollock, it doesn't feel like a Pollock, it doesn't sing like a Pollock."
Walter Pater said long ago, "All arts aspire to the condition of music," and there are plenty, living and not, who have made canvas sing. Jackson Pollock wasn't one of them. In fact, he hadn't a stitch of talent.
Pollock is often called one of America's greatest and most important painters and some of his work sells for over $100 million. His paintings and prints are coveted and library shelves sag with Pollock books; thousands of pages and millions of gushing words testifying to his genius and significance. Jackson Pollock climbed rarefied heights for an artist who, by his own admission, couldn't draw or use a brush well.
Hollywood played up the misunderstood genius shtick in a recent major motion picture, Pollock, starring Ed Harris. Harris, who is always good, started lean then grew a hearty beer belly for the role of Pollock, a cantankerous alcoholic. Harris received an Academy award nomination in 2000 for looking perpetually pained as Jack the Dripper.
Jackson Pollock is, of course, most famous for dribbling and pouring paint from the can directly onto a canvas stretched across the floor. It's something any first grader can do. One dribble painting is cute, sort of, but the man made a career and a legacy as a "painter" who couldn't paint. Pollock's success is a lot more interesting than his work.
Paul Jackson Pollock was born in Cody, Wyoming, in 1912, but the family moved to California when he was a baby. Brooding and quiet when sober, Pollock was a belligerent and quarrelsome drunk. Unfortunately, he was a heavy drinker most of his life and carried on miserably when full.
In 1950 - 1951, at the height of his fame, Pollock agreed to let Hans Namuth photograph him while he worked. It was supposed to happen once, but soon Pollock, who is reported to have been shy and reclusive, was posing, performing, and pouring for the camera week after week; addicted to adulation.
Pollock would also flick the brush, drip paint from a stick, or throw sand at the canvas to vary his products. When all this was captured by Namuth, Pollock's reputation as a tortured man who fell into a therapeutic trance while working added mystique to his "subconscious creations."
Eventually, Namuth had Pollock paint a sheet of glass while he photographed from underneath, giving us the canvas's perspective. The pop, vanity project gives a better insight to Pollock's narcissism than any of his dribbling. Using the photos, Life Magazine did a spread on Pollock, and made him flavour of the month.
Pollock enjoyed his time in the limelight, but as it faded, so did his vitality. He had virtually stopped working the last few years of his life and filled the void with drinking. The legend he created was killing him; the great frontiersman was stalled and could take his art no further. Jackson Pollock couldn't paint, after all, and how much dribbling can one planet, and one man, endure?
Pollock is credited with turning art inwards upon the self; by pouring his subconscious directly onto the canvas, he "broke it wide open." His unprecedented form of self-expression is meticulously examined; there are several dense, highly resourced textbooks that endeavour to explain how meaningful and significant each spill of Pollock's paintings are.
After a few pages, however, one begins to wonder about those who have the time, resources, and desire to analyze something so simple and so ridiculous so thoroughly.
On the surface, Pollock fits the bill of an artist; he was a fiery, temperamental drunk, who died young. It's a good sales pitch, but shouldn't looking at art be a more rewarding experience than trying to make sense of what is dribbled onto a canvas?
The object of a painting should be to sooth the soul of the viewer, not the painter. I don't care if Jackson Pollock was tortured. So what? Paint, homey.
Van gogh was tortured, but he could paint. Evidently the monkeys and elephants, who paint at the zoo, are tortured, as well.
Art is testimony to our significance; we should be awed with a sense of serenity when looking at it, not expected to suffer along with a poor, conflicted artist. Pollock's works, like the man, are too self-centered and chaotic to enjoy.
Pollock was killed driving drunk and recklessly with his young mistress and her friend, Edith Metzger, in a convertible. In 1956, at the age of 44, Jackson Pollock died the instant his head hit a tree and, just as quickly, his art was worth a lot more.
Metzger, who was begging to be let out of the speeding car, is sometimes overlooked in the Pollock mania. She had only met Pollock hours earlier and was crushed under his big automobile. One book reads, "Although Pollock lived only to the age of forty-four..." and doesn't even mention Edith Metzger, who was 25. Beyond a fraud, Jackson Pollock was also a jackass.
Despite alcoholism and in-your-face indiscretions, Pollock's wife, artist Lee Krasner, was his greatest champion. From the first time they met, Krasner had faith she could sell her man to the public. When Jackson Pollock died, she made him a legend.
It's #$&% funny.
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