Friday, July 4, 2008

jackson pollock

jackson pollock's lavender mist: number 1, 1950.

I first saw lavender mist in the flesh at the Tate Gallery, London when I was fifteen years old and trying hard to put together a portfolio good enough to get into Art School. The magazine and fine art prints I had seen of Pollock's work before then didn't do his paintings any justice. None at all.

I entered the gallery and his 7' x 9' canvas stopped me dead in my tracks. It was just like walking into a wall.

A brick wall on which some angry primate genius had been let loose with paint and a utensil other than an academy sanctioned brush.

I say primate for good reason.

There was nothing remotely primitive either in the intent or the execution so far as I could see. It simply looked as though some huge but agile ape had been let out its cage. I sank into one of those padded benches they leave dotted about the place as if intended for the infirm and stared at that painting for the better part of an hour. The party of school kids I was with, some good friends among them, wandered off and left me alone to grapple with my response and I didn't meet up with them again until we were all back out on the street.

The Provisional IRA staged a terrorist campaign in England's capital that summer
and three of us were dressed in camouflage fatigues and paramilitary boots, which didn't sit at all well with either the Tate's security staff or the police patrolling the pavement. Neither did our pronounced accents, which - to the untrained ear - appeared to sound every inch as cosily cosmopolitan as Gerry Adams'. This wasn't that many years after publicans were censured for displaying signs reading "No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs". Put our dress code down to juvenile naivety as opposed to delinquency.

If you have gotten this far with only prose for comfort and are possibly wondering what song or group I have chosen to illustrate this post, forget it.

Most of the time music works for me, but sometimes you have to go with silence.


Your driver said...

A few years ago there was a museum show on the beats. Included in the show was a Pollock painting along with a couple of "action" paintings by lesser artists. Pollock's paintings are often ridiculed, or, in this exhibit, imitated. "How hard could it be? He was just throwing paint at the canvas." The Pollock piece was even more brilliant in that context. It stood out as, among other things a masterpiece of discipline. Pollock was in complete control. The other two action paintings were an embarrassment.

ib said...

I can easily believe it. Jackson Pollock was a huge talent. The feedback I got from his painting in the Tate that day was that there was just no way I could hope to pull off anything remotely like that as an artist because I was just setting out and he had clearly 'arrived", wherever that was.

I read a really good biography on Pollock a good many years back now, and it was really interesting to witness how much he developed from the callow would-be artist following his brother to NYC in the midst of the great depression. Apparently, registering as an artist in those days gave you many benefits over the great unwashed, since federal government sought to nurture the arts through that 'difficult' period. Pollock, of course, drank away all of these financial incentives ; but there he was, numerous humiliations later, turning out the good stuff.

ib said...

hey, by the way, jon ; happy 4th of July! You're still on vacation, right ?

Your driver said...

Yes, numerous posts on the subject of July 4. I am also going for volunteer training at the anarchist info center, Free Mind Media. What better way to celebrate freedom?

Your driver said...

By the way, did you say that a Glasgow accent would sound like an Irish accent to a Londoner? To me, they sound like two different languages! I have a bad habit of trying to imitate accents and those are two of the hardest. Those and the old time accent from Baltimore (Ballmoor) Maryland. I won't even try that one.

ib said...

I know, the two accents are noticeably different but there are similarities given Glasgow's huge Irish population and the close geographical and cultural ties. When I was in Holland many people mistook me for being Irish, and a guy from Dublin I knew was often asked if he was from Scotland.

At least the Dutch have an excuse, since there is no common language.

Many Londoners - forgive me for saying this - can be insular to the point of absurdity. Anything North of the Watford Gap is often considered regional. When I sold over the phone for a period of time - cold calling - there were even some southerners who concluded from my accent that I must be Indian or Pakistani! I kid you not.

I digress. Good luck with the Free Mind Media center.

Unknown said...

Last winter I watched a rather interesting documentary called Who The #$&% Is Jackson Pollack? that was rather entertaining and informative. I'd tell you about it, but you'd probably learn more reading that Wiki page.

I admit to being clueless towards stuff as abstract as his (I like making abstract, though. I wonder why that is?), but the movie did orient towards an appreciation of his unique style.

ib said...

Essentially, what I'd like to say about Jackson Pollock is this :

Initially, when he settled in NYC he was very much under his older brother's thrall. He tried very hard to become a figurative artist, or accepted commercially, and failed miserably.

He went to Martha's Vineyard on vacation and made a complete horse's ass of himself.

He designed some plates. His plates were shit.

He went back to NYC and drank himself half crazy on the Bowery.

He was committed to Bellevue. Frequently.

He suddenly stunned all those who doubted him by churning out great art in a manic explosion while keeping his mouth astutely shut.

He was exhibited to great acclaim, after those who recognised his genius struggled to promote his unique voice.

If he were a writer, he might just as easily have been Bukowski. Or Burroughs. Or anyone with unpaid campaigners on their side.

ib said...

I just read this post again while drunk in charge of a keyboard. Lest you form the opinion that I may have, or have had in the past, any partisan affinity with the IRA let me go on record as saying I hate these fuckers.

It's all (or was then) just a smokescreen for organised crime. On a Sunday, in some pool hall somewhere, you can bet the IRA and the UDA were bedding down with each other and discussing last week's takings.

Over and out.

ib said...

I can't abide terrorists. And I have no time for bullies, either.