Jackson Pollock in The Springs

By Peggy Roalf   Friday March 31, 2017


In August of 1953, Look magazine sent Tony Vaccaro on assignment to East Hampton to photograph Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner for a feature article. The piece was killed, but Vaccaro filed away the black and white images. Out of sight for six decades, the negatives and contact sheets were recently uncovered during a move. Among the people he captured at work and in social settings are Willem and Elaine de Kooning—who had studios at the Leo Castelli house that summer—Harold and May Rosenberg, Fairfield Porter, Wilfrid Zogbaum, Larry Rivers, Alfonso Ossorio, Costantino Nivola and John Graham. An exhibition of 20 images from this group opens next week at the Pollock Krasner House and Study Center in East Hampton. Info Following is my feature on Pollock’s late paintings, which were shown at the Dallas Museum of Art last year. Info

Above: © Tony Vaccaro,Jackson Pollock with Lee Krasner (left) and Sam Duboff (right) in his East Hampton studio, 1953, with Portrait and a Dream in the background. 

Abstraction in art—art for art’s sake—was key to the development of the most significant works of Jackson Pollock. His early attempts to escape description, representation of what could be considered banal realities, can be seen in the paintings and prints he made in the mid-1940s. He gradually moved towards pure patterns of form and color that sprang from his subconscious, as embodied in the ideas of Plato. The Greek philosopher proposed that the highest form of beauty lies in geometry, which by transcending the natural world, is seen to represent the spiritual. “The modern artist … is working and expressing an inner world – in other words expressing the energy, the motion, and other inner forces,” said Pollack.

Clement Greenberg, a leading critic of the New York School, proposed that pure abstract painting was the logical and necessary conclusion of modern art. Serious modernism, he claimed, stripped various art forms down, reducing them to a philosophical core of truth. With painting, this meant escaping perspective and recognizing painting as a flat object; a surface. According to Greenberg’s theory, Pollock—whose paintings were planes of color—was a Promethean figure. The burden that this philosophical/critical foundation placed upon Pollock’s development can be seen in several works that came after his great achievements of 1947-52, in which he took control of the drips, spatters and poured streaks found in One: Number 31, 1950 [MoMA].


He had transcended easel painting and created a new art form that was more a performance than it was an act of will. Documentation held by the Pollock-Krasner Foundation indicates that soon after he created his arguably greatest works, he turned away from his invented method, instead creating somewhat biomorphic “drawings” made with fluid black enamel paint poured onto raw canvas, such as Portrait and a Dream 1953 [Dallas Museum of Art], above.

Instead of the sweeping, gestural marks that embodied the physical and inner impulses of the artist, the new works were carefully controlled lines that often included shorthand references to objects or body parts. They share similarities with the experimental prints he made at Stanley Hayter’s Atelier 17, in which Pollock attempted to discard the biomorphic iterations espoused by the Surrealists. His late paintings seemed to stem from visual associations with the mythic, as found in Jungian analysis, which Pollock had undergone, rather than the wholly improvisational method he had originated with his drip paintings.



Above, l-r: Jackson Pollock,Echo: Number 25, 1951; Number 14, 1951; Number 7, 1951.© 2015 The Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

In a 1956 interview with art historian Selden Rodman, Pollack said, “I don’t care for ‘abstract expressionism’ … and it’s certainly not ‘non-objective,’ and not ‘nonrepresentational’ either. I’m very representational some of the time, and a little all of the time.” The statement rings hollow, when the negative comments of art critics of the time are considered. Pollock stopped painting in 1953, turning to sculpture in collaboration with his friend Tony Smith, and resumed the heavy drinking he had struggled to overcome. A year later he died in a car crash that also killed a passenger, at age 44. 

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