Reflections on Jackson Pollock’s 100 Years
by michael braverman
Pollock’s Blue Poles, 1952
|Pollock’s ever present cigarette was erased in his 1999 commemorative stamp|
|Lee Krasner and Pollock, in happier times|
When the United States Postal Service issued its Jackson Pollock commemorative stamp in 1999, the cigarette dangling from Pollock’s mouth had vanished. It was there in the original Martha Holmes photograph for Life magazine, but the government was concerned about the mixed message it would send regarding public health. The resulting stamp, although deplored by some cultural critics, still captured the essence of the artist. But the truth is that Pollock does not clean up very well.
He lived fast, died young, and made a mess of things. Yet along the way, he forever changed our understanding of art. His life and death have made him one of the 20th century’s most notorious bad boys. And the way he painted has made him the most pivotal figure in American art history.
It is hard to conceive of Pollock being old at all, much less a century old (his birthday: January 28, 1912). Hard because bad boys don’t grow old—if they happen to live long enough, they grow out of being bad—and hard because Pollock still seems to be with us. His vision remains remarkably vivid, an ingrained part of our culture, inescapably a presence to be seen or felt in all art movements that followed, in some ways a reaction to Abstract Expressionism. Because the studio on Springs-Fireplace Road in Springs where Pollock fashioned his celebrated and deeply influential drip paintings has been preserved and maintained, his presence here in the Hamptons remains just as powerful. Art lovers from around the world have made the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center one of the East End’s most visited destinations.
The Making of a Legend
Pollock and his wife, Lee Krasner, another pioneering Abstract Expressionist painter, moved to Springs in 1945, to get away from New York City life. Once there, his work changed, becoming brighter and less dense, reflecting—abstractly, of course—the openness and the colors of Accabonac Creek and all of the beauty of nature in this corner of East Hampton. Many of his most important and famous works were painted between 1947 and 1950, when Pollock laid his canvases on the floor of the outbuilding they had converted into a studio. In a process he called “direct painting,” Pollock helped usher in a transformation in the way we perceive art. That floor, still littered with spatters of color, is a testimony to Pollock’s genius and a shrine of sorts that visitors honor by walking across in padded slippers, feet shuffling over the identifiable residue of such iconic paintings as Autumn Rhythm, Blue Poles, and Convergence.
The preservation of the floor is a remarkable achievement—if somewhat of a happy accident. Near the end of Pollock’s life, the original wood floor was covered with a different material (masonite boards, made by Pollock’s brother) and remained that way until more than 30 years later. The Stony Brook Foundation, which administered the property after Krasner’s death, was in the process of preparing the site for visitors when the layer was removed, revealing the vivid record, a virtual time capsule, of Pollock’s unique pouring technique.
photography courtesy of National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Purchased 1973 © 2011 The Pollock-Krasner Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART, GEORGE A. HEARN FUND, 1957 (57.92) © 2011 THE POLLOCK-KRASNER FOUNDATION/ARTISTS RIGHTS SOCIETY, NEW YORK (AUTUMN RHYTHM); HELEN A. HARRISON (HOUSE EXTERIOR AND INTERIOR).
OPPOSITE: TONY VACCARO/HULTON ARCHIVE/GETTY IMAGES (POLLOCK WITH PAINTING); WILFRID ZOGBAUM (KRASNER)