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The Religious Affiliation of Celebrated American Painter
Jackson Pollock is one of the most celebrated painters in modern American history.
Photograph from: Hans Namuth (photographer) and Barbara Rose (editor), Pollock: Painting, Agrinde Publications Ltd.: New York (1980), page 28.
From: Barbara Rose, "Introduction: Jackson Pollock: The Artist as Cultural Hero", in Pollock: Painting (edited by Barbara Rose), Agrinde Publications Ltd.: New York (1980), pages 3-4.
The creation of a major cultural myth is an unconscious process depending on the gradual accretion of meaning to an idea that in some way answers profound collective needs. Perhaps it was inevitable that Jackson Pollock, an artist who lived fast and died young, a man from the West who spoke of the kinship of his art with the rituals of the American Indian, whose expressionist painting style seemed involved not only with the violence of his own death, but also with the volatile American ethos itself, should have beocme a figure of the popular imagination. For millions who never saw the paintings of an artist whose works still cause intense critical debate, "Jack the Dripper," as TIME magazine mockingly labelled Polock, was the original "rebel without a cause."
From: Jackson Pollock, "My Painting", in Pollock: Painting (edited by Barbara Rose), Agrinde Publications Ltd.: New York (1980), page 65; originally published in Possibilities I, New York, Winter 1947-8:
Pollock's image became larger than life, and his myth began to dominate his art because of the interaction of many factors, including the public's fascination with the millions paid for art that did not, like Rembrandt's or even Monet's work, look like art to them at all. For Pollock' technique of pouring paint rather than using a brush was in and of itself so radical that Picasso's distortions looked tame by comparison. The focus on the drama and radicality of Pollock's technique was intensified by the exhibition and publication of the remarkable series of photographs that Hans Namuth made of Pollock beginning in the summer of 1950, and the showing of the film Namuth made with Paul Falkenberg in Autumn, 1950. Through Namuth's unique documentary record of the artist in action, the public was to fabricate a new conception of the artist that fulfilled the need for a culture hero...
In picturing a new image of the artist in the grip of impulse, driven by inner forces, Namuth, following his own unconscious intuition, provided the material necessary for the creation of a cultural myth of the artist as an inspired shaman, entirely "other" than the pedestrian businessman who dominated American social life.
I accept the fact that the most important painting of the last hundred years was done in France. American painters have generally missed the point of modern painting from beginning to end. (The only American master who interests me is Ryder.) Thus the fact that good European moderns are now here is very important, for they bring with them an understanding of the problems of modern painting. I am particularly impressed with their concept of the source of art being the Unconscious. This idea interests me more than these specific painters do, for the two artists I admire most, Picasso and Miro, are still abroad. . . .
From: Barbara Rose (editor), Pollock: Painting, Agrinde Publications Ltd.: New York (1980), page 97.
The idea of an isolated American painting, so popular in this country during the thirties, seems absurd to me just as the idea of creating a purely american mathematics or physics would seem absurd...
My painting does not come from the easel. I hardly ever stretch my canvas before painting. I prefer to tack the unstretched canvas to the hard wall or floor. I need the resistance of a hard surface. On the floor I am more at ease. I feel nearer, more a part of the painting, since this way I can walk round it, work from the four sides and literally be in the painting. This is akin to the methods of the Indian sand painters of the West.
I continue to get further away from the usual painter's tools such as easel, palette, brushes, etc. I prefer sticks, trowels, knives and dripping fluid paint or a heavy impasto with sand, broken glass and other foreign matter added.
When I am in my painting, I'm not aware of what I'm doing. It is only after a sort of 'get acquainted' period that I see what I have been about. I have no fears about making changes, destroying the iamge, etc., because the painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through. It is only when I lose contact with the painting that the result is a mess. Otherwise there is pure harmony, an easy give and take, and the painting comes out well.
Narration Spoken by Jackson Pollock in Films by Hans Namuth and Paul Falkenberg 1951
From: William Wright, "An Interview with Jackson Pollock", in Pollock: Painting (edited by Barbara Rose), Agrinde Publications Ltd.: New York (1980), pages 101-102:
My home is in Springs, East Hampton, Long Island. I was born in Cody, Wyoming, thirty-nine years ago. In New York I spent two years at the Art Students League with Tom Benton. He was a strong personality to react against. This was in 1929.
I don't work from drawings or color sketches. My painting is direct. I usually paint on the floor. I enjoy working on a large canvas. I feel more at home, more at ease in a big area. Having a canvas on the floor, I feel nearer, more a part of a painting. THis way I can walk around it, work from all four sides and be in the painting, similar to the Indian sand painters of the West. Sometimes I use a brush, but often prefer using a stick. Sometimes I pour the paint straight out of the can. I like to use a dripping, fluid paint. I also use sand, broken glass, pebbles, string, nails or other foreign matter. The method of painting is a natural growth out of a need. I want to express my feelings rather than illustrate them. Technique is just a means of arriving at a statement.
When I am painting I have a general notion as to what I am about. I can control the flow of the paint; there is no accident, just as there is no beginning and no end.
Sometimes I lose a painting. But I have no fear of changes, of destroying the image, because a painting has a life of its own. I kind of let it live.
This is the first time I am using glass as a medium.
I lost contact with my first painting on glass, and I started another one.
Jackson Pollock, 1951
WW: Mr. Pollock, in your opinion, what is the meaning of modern art?
JP: Modern art to me is nothing more than the expression of contemporary aims of the age that we're living in.
WW: Did the classical artists have any means of expressing their age?
JP: Yes, they did it ver well. All cultures have had means of expressing their immediate aims--the Chinese, the Renaissance, all cultures. The thing that interests me is that today painters do not have to go to a subject matter outside of themselves. Most modern painters work from a different source. They work from within..
WW: Would it be true to say that the artist is painting from the unconscious, and the--canvas must act as the unconscious of the person who views it?
JP: The unconscious is a very important side of modern art and I think the unconscious drives do mean a lot in looking at paintings.
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