Monday, December 5, 2016

Brice Marden on Jackson Pollock Part 2.

My continuation from Brice Marden's book COLD MOUNTAIN. His writing about the work of Jackson Pollock.

The artist's vision is not something that exists, that you know. If you know it and you keep doing what you know, it becomes a familiar road over which you travel until it ceases to be interesting. Instead, with every step toward the vision, questions arise and you pursue those questions. And all the while you're just in the studio, trying to make paintings. Pollock's paintings around 1950 - One, Autumn Rhythm, Lavender Mist - have an ease and lyricism. When you look at those paintings, you see an artist who could do no wrong, who was operating at a level of supreme confidence. That confidence doesn't exist in the late paintings, which convey the struggle of the artist working with his vision, attempting to enlarge his vision, going to his sources. There was a drive of his own that led Pollock through an enormous amount of work. He died when he was only forty-four and he left a huge body of work, He went back to themes and completely reworked them. One of the great things about Pollock is that he never takes it easy: there's no rote. As an artist, to go through the books on Pollock and see everything he has's just exhausting! He worked very hard on every painting and every drawing. Pollock is no accidental genius. There is real thinking going on in every work.

When I look at a painting like ONE, it just seems perfectly drawn. It's not so much about the particular shape of the mark as it is about energy. Energy is drawn into ONE, as it's drawn into a lot of his work. There is the physical energy it took to make the mark, and then there's the intense energy that comes out of the painting. In ONE you see that every layer is applied in a different way, and you understand that those are drawing decisions as well as painting decisions, so that in the end you see this as an exquisitely drawn painting, and you recognize that Pollock was a masterful draftsman. When you focus on looking at a painting, always the thing to look for is how well the person draws, and drawing well is a combination of energy and control. The amazing thing about the Braque and Picasso show was that right from the beginning, you just know Picasso draws better than Braque does. All you had to do was to look at Braque's little etchings of the nude and a couple of Picasso drawings and you saw that Picasso had it way over Braque. And that confidence runs all through the work. That's the kind of confidence you see in ONE. Pollock made enormous jumps in what he tackled in a painting. Subject matter, color, form - those are all very big jumps. He had to be a great draftsman, and I don't think he had a lot of confidence about it; I think he constantly worked on it. When I think of powerful objects in the world, I think about this Pollock drawing in Stuttgart. It's black enamel paint on paper, and it's just three forms drawn with strokes of pure energy. It is one of the most compelling works in the history of art. Pollock's drawing well is not about drawing with conventional skill, it's about drawing with the body.

They say that Pollock wasn't a very graceful person but that when he was working, he was simply transformed. He could control the whole feel of the painting by going to the original ground layer and bringing it back up. The ground is the canvas, and what happens in the painting is a dynamic play between the applied and what it's applied on. Everything gets drawn. In other words, in a black and white painting like Echo, he's not making drawings of black. Every white works just as strongly as every black. And in ONE you look at the colors and the marks, and you try to redraw them. You look at the blacks and you follow the way they went on the canvas, then you follow the whites, say, then the browns.... But there's always some point where you lose the trail; you just can't read it because it never reads as layering. It's nice to think, well, he did the black at the same time and we can follow those marks, but when you really start looking at the painting, there are places where the black is over the white, and then there are places where the white is over the black. I don't really know how he was working those colors, how he could go back and forth between colors and layers. The colors may look layered, but I think there was a more organic flow between what looks like the bottom layer and what looks like the top layer. There just seems to be so much more: Pollock doesn't let the painting read as layers, and all those marks and colors become the real space of the painting.

More to come. Thanks for reading.

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Columbus, Ohio, United States