The Last Dance

In Jackson Pollock’s hands, paint took on the delicacy, power, and variety of a human form. He laid it on with care, in dabs of black and skeins of intense color. He let it run off as he circled a canvas, as if it flowed from the motion of his body. On that enormous scale, it accumulates the debris of an artist’s life, from ashes and canvas ends to the sober gray of Long Island sunlight. At once palpable, fluid, and transparent to the light, it gives to an entire museum wall the brightness, odor, and ordinary necessity of fresh house paint.

After half a century of pattern painting and parody, Pollock’s drip paintings can be seen at last as a lot more than drips, but they remain the most defiantly abstract art ever made. And yet his retrospective begins with the small, clumsy image of a boy’s face, his own. Easter and the Totem (Museum of Modern Art, 1953)Achingly shy, he has the dark rings around his eyes of a battered child.

The painting, Pollock’s only known self-portrait, could stand for all the weaknesses of his art, right up to the desperately few final years that made him famous. Well past the excuses of student age, he settles for unpromising class work. The portrait’s derivative style lies somewhere between Expressionism and Sunday painting. By painting himself years younger, the victim of a father Pollock in fact hardly knew, he combines evasion with a severe case of self-dramatization.

Evasion and overstatement, self-assertion and the chaos of influences—they fill Pollock’s mature art as well. The majestic mature paintings beg to be larger than life. They allow the artist to step directly into a changing work and leave only a trace behind. The Museum of Modern Art makes it possible for one to linger over that glorious trail. For anyone who loves modern art, for anyone perplexed and angered by it, this is the show of a lifetime. A postscript updates this review for a survey of Pollock drawings some seven years later.

Painting out Pollock

The retrospective’s first few rooms run down one style after another. Long after he preceded his friend Philip Guston to New York, Pollock is at a loss to know how to paint, and all he has for certain is a violent imagination. He tries his hand at Thomas Hart Benton’s determined American scenes, but the landscape sits too still. He imitates the compacted bodies of El Greco or the Mexican muralists, José Clemente Oroczo and David Alfaro Siqueros. He dabbles in Jung, like Richard Pousette-Dart, and in automatic writing, as if looking hard for something to dream. Fascinated with art’s origins and star power, he keeps coming back to Picasso.

Even with his breakthrough work, Mural, he still has to look back. It may be the largest abstract painting Pollock ever made, but I thought first of Wilfredo Lam. Oh, no, another artist stuck between Surrealism and the future! Still, today one recalls Lam, if at all, mostly on account of Pollock. One remembers instead the mania in which he completed that work, in one long day and night. One remembers the fantastic scale on which Pollock can paint.

I can see why it impressed Peggy Guggenheim. I can see, too, why he captivated—and scared—a painter like Lee Krasner, his future wife. Amid the lurid excesses, Pollock is learning to scrawl. For a generation of painters, such as Cy Twombly, the scrawl will come to be a sign of maturity.

At first he layers over scenes, as if borrowing his old, lurid fantasies for a casual game of tic-tac-toe. A title like Guardians of the Secret has a double meaning: painting holds the secret, but also hides it. Pollock is erasing himself from his own longings. He can get that much larger than life if he leaves some of the overstatement—and the child—behind.

Pollock is painting himself out, bit by bit, along with all the old notion’s of art’s sublimity. That breakthrough work is a highly abstracted row of people. I walked beside it as if through a nightmare party. I felt that I could have reached out and touched the paint, but without connecting, unable to get anyone’s attention no matter how loudly I boasted. I bet that Pollock felt the same even when he drank. Or especially then.

More and more, Pollock’s scrawls merge with the underlying image, much as in the development of perhaps his only peer, Mark Rothko. They attain a fresh concentration through brighter colors, a simpler palette, and a surface devoid of obvious illusion. In remarkable abstract works such as Comet, Pollock creates a uniform, shallow space, the space of paint as a substance. Depth still exists, but forget old-fashioned perspective. It sits on this side of the canvas. It is depth for only the hand and the light to penetrate, leaving behind the dream.

Patience without distance

Start again with those first tumultuous images, borrowed so obviously from older artists. Pollock struggles not just with paint, but with his terror. He describes the mind’s sexual charge in terms traditionally reserved for morally elevated, public scenes. But as soon as sex becomes heroic, it gets out of control. Then a new generation of influences hits him, and the florid images vanish abruptly, as if banished by force of will. They turn into something overtly calm, dazzlingly layered, and abstract.

Does this career sound familiar? Paul Cézanne, a hero for Pollock’s generation, took the almost the same strange course. Impressionism showed Cézanne how to discard adolescent fantasies, and he created a new classicism from his shifting visions. However, the madness he cast aside haunts his finest, calmest creations. Cézanne’s sensual apples, like Pollock’s She-Wolf and frightened eyes, remind one of the emotions behind his most extreme formalism.

Pollock’s psyche also differs sharply from Cézanne’s. Think about it: why are there no apples in a Jackson Pollock? Well, start with why Cézanne chose them.

Meyer Schapiro, who first wrote about those apples, put the sex back into Cézanne’s still life. More than that, however, he asked why it had to enter still life. He looked back at the genre and found a specific tradition, a tradition of looking.

For painters such as Jan Vermeer centuries before, still life meant household affairs and high illusion. Not a bad combination for artists out to capture the world—and to unsettle vision. For Cézanne, Schapiro continued, still life makes Vermeer’s project modern. “The fruit, I have observed, while no longer in nature, is not yet fully a part of human life. Suspended between nature and use, it exists for contemplation alone.”

Pollock has no patience for Cézanne’s “steadfast commitment to the visible.” He paints so poorly at first because he cannot see the outside world well enough—and he never understands why he should. Too much presses in for contemplation alone, for what Schapiro called “esthetic perception as a pure will-less knowing.” Pollock nourishes the patient eye, but he never allows Cézanne’s “distinctive distance from action and desire.”

Dance class

Pollock’s early work may at times resemble still life, but one really gets just an empty table. In Guardians of the Secret, the table’s surface turns into the picture plane. It becomes a slate for a message that painting cannot deliver. I thought of Picasso’s harlequin, holding a blank easel like a playing card.

For much the same reasons, Pollock cannot handle landscape. His foregrounds crowd so with imagery that to speak of a backdrop makes no sense at all.

Like pretty much everyone else, I have compared the big drip paintings to the American west. I succumbed to the myth, and I was wrong. Pollock hardly knew his birthplace in Cody, Wyoming, before his family moved on. His gamble was to be rootless.

From the old genres Pollock cares only about the mural and the drama. Not even James Rosenquist could take them both to a larger scale. His lost fantasies were primal, political, and human. Like Mexican muralists, he was to see every action as greater than any one man’s. Like Surrealist doodling, he was to immerse an artist’s most basic gesture in the painted surface.

Pollock repeats every element of Cubism in human terms. Cubist fragmentation becomes spatter. The perspective that thrusts forward rather than into depth becomes a crust of enamel and oil. Cubist symmetry becomes an artifact of the artist’s working method, from all sides of canvas laid on the floor. Picasso’s rapid-fire puns on art, like Willem de Kooning’s return to Cubism’s women, become literal remnants of a painting’s process.

Harold Rosenberg described drip painting as an “arena for action,” and of course Clement Greenberg wrote about “flatness.” I can see both, but as carefully crafted illusions. Pollock has found when to enter these stage sets and when to step back. Painting can extend his movements, but paint itself must learn to dance.

Shimmering perception

Somehow, even when Pollock looks backward, every room at the Modern has a disclosure. And so the first rooms make a case for Pollock’s continued growth through heartfelt encounters with the past. The chief curator, Kirk Varnedoe, has enough sense to hide a few clunkers in an alcove, alongside drawings. The show never quite lies, but it helps a career take shape.

Another of the Modern’s tricks is to stretch out the glory years. It chooses carefully and hangs its choices well. Big canvases never get in each other’s way. From this moment on, each room corresponds to just a few months. One experiences every small span of Pollock’s life as a separate stage and a glorious discovery.

First, paint takes over its shallow space. It gets denser, a painting’s symmetry gets more obvious, and the technique gets varied and absorbing. A physicist has actually quantified the symmetry, not implausibly, with fractal geometry. When Pollock calls a painting Simmering Substance, one sees the heat but feels a refreshing cool.

These works absorb attention for a long time, and when one looks back at the one before, it appears unfamiliar all over again. Pollock makes it dangerous to look back. Every look is like the poet’s glance at a love he fears he has left behind. I said that Pollock had to paint himself out of his work. It leaves him—and the viewer—exposed to loss.

Each of the next stages consolidates the new style and the loss. Pollock simplifies things. He discards titles and opens the weave of the paint. He sets it against an earthy red. He sticks entirely to black enamel or the quiet colors of Autumn Rhythm.

One still cherishes a painting for every last second of perception. Now, however, one’s eye moves comfortably between paint and ground. It is perhaps the finest moment of painting in this century. It could be the last time that painting let itself to be taken half as seriously. When brighter colors and fragile paint threads reappear in Blue Poles, a painting not seen here in many years, the effect is exhilarating.

The dark, timbered room

This show amounts to Abstract Expressionism’s critical comeback. It gives the movement’s star his due. It also runs hardly a mile from Rothko’s retrospective, as well as gallery exhibits of their contemporaries. Do not be fooled. The comeback comes at a price, the price of turning artists into classics. It accedes to their place in a happy male pantheon.

The Modern studies Pollock as a textbook figure, a technician. By this tactic, it gets past myths that have come to surround Pollock. It offers intelligent commentary, plus a recreation of the shed in which he dripped. It includes a video of him at work, as if brilliantly choreographed. It displays swatches of canvas made up to explain Pollock’s technique. The reviewers obediently speak of little else.

I gained precious insights from these displays. Heck, I would have worked on the floor myself. Pollock had cramped wall space, and the dark, timbered walls make a lousy backdrop for decent art. They must have looked truly pathetic just when modern art was entering a museum’s bare white walls. In arguing for painting’s “flatness,” a critical advocate like Greenberg reflected this emerging standard.

The grit of that shed, however, unsettles the purity of a pantheon, a tawdry American century. Besides, if technique matters so much, why do I have to put up with such inept painting at the start? Something else is at stake in the technical high-wire act, the underside of Pollock’s humanity.

When drip painting works, the dance never ends, but the artist has stepped aside. Canvas gets up off the floor of Pollock’s crude studio. Gesture detaches itself from the artist’s history. It takes on symmetry instead of a treacherously bent over pose. The pattern becomes abstract and public, like diagrams of dance instruction. The act of contemplation gets literally out of hand.

I risk something, too, entering the dance of abstract painting. As I look at bare spots of canvas, paint surrounds me and pushes me back. No glance or gesture can encompass it all. I cannot write off this stroke or that as decorative flair or Pollock’s personal problems. Like the artist, I experience its creation and find that it excludes me.

After the murmur

Psychologists have compared depression to a loss of language. The unconscious rules, reducing the human voice to a helpless murmur. Again like Cézanne, Pollock was overcome by too many words. He aspired to too many styles, too much of art’s past. He had to let eye and hand at last stumble on their own.

Julia Kristeva, a French psychologist and novelist, has a word for what artists do. She speaks of the symbolic giving way to the semiotic. She means that a depressed person can hope to recover not speech alone, but a freer play of words. She means that some people can attain not exactly a power over their art, but the power that art has over them. It is like taking control of one’s dreams. She associates the symbolic, or common language, with the words of a father. The semiotic, in contrast, draws on a woman’s vulnerability and strength.

Kristeva gushes much too much for me. She revels in the infamous obscurity of her own creative father, Jacques Lacan, the psychologist. And she manages to combine this with a New Age sensibility. I might say that she mixes two ways of making no sense at all. I thought of her, however, as I watched Pollock’s life unfold.

In the last decade, feminism has seen the macho underside of Abstract Expressionism. A pack of tough-drinking men took the dribs and drabs of Surrealism and got high art under control. It spoke a language of symmetry and grandeur. It took as its hero modern art’s great misogynist, Picasso. Like others influenced by Surrealism, Pollock liked titles that spoke of the origin of the world, another cliché for the male fascination with women.

Meanwhile, women vanished from the scene and the textbooks. Janet Sobel, who made the first and maybe loveliest drip paintings, remains unknown even to Pollock fans. Lee Krasner, one of my favorite painters, pretty much set her career aside. Pulling her husband back from the drunken edge was a full-time job, not to mention ultimately a futile one. It is not a pretty picture.

Perhaps, but why not put women back into Abstract Expressionism, too? I mean as both history and a feminist understanding. I mean a renewed look at what followed the murmur of words.

Walk softly

History is the easy part. Lee Krasner made Pollock take fresh notice of Cubism’s rigor. Through her, he met Hans Hoffman and other European immigrants. They helped him rein in those early fantasies, and in turn he gave her art a space to breathe. In the show’s final room, one finds new simplicities, including a figure in soft brown, Easter and the Totem. Its palette and gentle ovals were to become Krasner’s trademark for twenty years.

A more nuanced view of men and women should also clarify the change in Pollock’s art. At some point, he discovered when to use his brush, but also when to put it down, take up a paint stick, and let ‘er drip.

I might still use words like mastery to describe Pollock’s developed technique, but he had mastered an art of acceptance. I am happy to see the stick as a penis, a gesture of arrogance, an act of pure aggression. This is one screwed-up guy, in a company of arrogant, screwed-up men. Still, I see also the act of giving pleasure. In Pollock’s dance over a canvas, it takes two to tango. Moreover, exactly which is Pollock?

When Pollock paints his fantasies out of his art, painting starts to have a life of its own. It is neither wholly the feminine other to Pollock’s caress, nor wholly his extension. When he steps back from it, his absence is telling. Every viewer has to risk entering and leaving a work this large in scale. I felt the risk in that shock of perception whenever I turned to look back.

If the canvas is the woman to the painter’s drip, they are also wrapped up in one another, representing each other. If Pollock cannot rest with pure contemplation, he cannot paint women the old way. His subject no longer waits for him eagerly and passively.

And then one steps back and looks away, much like Pollock once did. For every beauty one senses a deprivation. Seeing his late work, I remembered again the hold his mother had over him. I remembered the journey on which she had led her family across the west. It was a journey from poverty to desolation.

Risk and renewal

Eventually, the rootlessness of Pollock’s art caught up with him. It scared him, perhaps, to death. The pure black paintings or the echoes of autumn’s dying leaves feel calming really. At the very end of Pollock’s life, however, fear pours in, and so do references to the world.

By the end of the retrospective, nature has entered again. It enters through the colors. It haunts Pollock’s anxious drive to experimentation, his unquiet hope of renewal. His career has the same restlessness as the creation of a single work. Think of the recycled canvas in Out of the Web. It disrupts the web of paint around it, and it refuses the comfort of last month’s web.

In the retrospective’s final room, canvases abandon a hope of symmetry. Paint no longer darts in firm verticals like those electric blue poles. The curves assemble into suggestive images. They move with little energy but relentlessly, right to the edges where the dripper once danced. The refusal to distinguish figure from ground leaves him nowhere to stand.

Pollock still does not represent himself in a painting. He has moved through it and gone. Only the towering shapes must then look none too comforting. Abstraction still identifies paint with a body, not quite Pollock’s and not quite another’s. But where does that leave the viewer when another body threatens to appears? Black, which he once treated as a color, is reduced to the Romantic’s starved associations with black and white.

The Deep‘s silky flecks of white surround an irregular black center, vaguely resembling a corpse. The dark figure could be sinking into ice or looming up into white, as if threatening the firmness and purity of abstraction’s two-dimensional surface. Either way, it is none too friendly.

Pollock continues the child’s overstatement right up to the end. He still wants everything larger than life. Where he had once made his youthfulness too extreme, in the end he has turned a fear of dying into an image of death.

A postscript: can Pollock draw?

Jackson Pollock eradicates the distinction between painting and drawing, right? I know you rely on critics for clichés, but an exhibition of Pollock drawings makes this one inescapable. The curators insist on it, and it turns up, too, in every review that I have read. Oddly enough, though, the Guggenheim may also prove it wrong. It could also put you in the mood for the Fourth of July with a perennial candidate for greatest American artist.

Of course, the cliché does not mean that Jack the Dripper introduced a fine line to canvas. Rather, it points to how Pollock lets paint—as color and as material—determine the composition. Perhaps Pablo Picasso had drawn like J. A. D. Ingres before he learned, as the great Modernist ego put it, to paint like a child—or perhaps like thrift-shop art. Pollock loved from the first playing the unruly child, eager to shout, “Reach for your guns, draw!” Paint takes over from the priority of drawing temporally as well as formally, too, for Pollock improvised on canvas, without preparatory sketches. Each of his many works on paper has a life entirely its own.

You may therefore expect a mini-retrospective, in more ways than one. The Guggenheim offers a display well suited to the occasion, in scope and intimacy, as well. Set away from Zaha Hadid out on the ramp, in an upstairs tower gallery with more or less normal walls, it proceeds roughly chronologically—but with an emphasis on Pollock’s classic drip period. Some of the best examples, in fact, lie immediately to the right just as one enters. However, the artist has a few tricks up his sleeve once again. Contrary to cliché, I might even argue that he has made his own drawings all but superfluous.

They can shed only limited light on Pollock’s most impressive museum pieces and their germination, since each object stands alone. They do not have the novelty of his paintings either, since paper has long held an artist’s first thoughts. One expects drawings to begin with a blank sheet of paper on a table, whereas Pollock’s dance around large areas of canvas laid flat to the floor imposes a constraint special to his art. It disrupts the vertical as drawing on paper does not, and it makes the a work’s edge into an extension of the artist’s body and line of sight. In drawing, on the other hand, paint or ink does not cross the edge only because the paper gives out. Paper passively resists its traces, and Pollock does not linger long enough on a sheet to achieve the density of those traces in my favorite paintings.

Perhaps for the same reason, the white of paper sets a limit on the image in a way that a canvas or particle board never does. In Pollock’s greatest work, one remains aware of the tan weave, and its color and texture have an interplay with oil and enamel that helps establish the image. They also help enable his fiendishly indefinite space—at once shallow, infinite, and literally a painted surface. Ironically, while the white of paper has traditionally stood in for sky, with Pollock it flattens into a stark plane, fully apart from the medium. In his last big paintings, Pollock achieves something of that effect on canvas, by paring back to black and white, with a tracery that suggests a kind of dark, unfinished self-portraiture. However, at that point, he also pretty much gave up drawing on paper!

All that still leaves a central role for drawing. Because Pollock makes scale and materials matter, even on paper, this show brings his technique up close. The colors and drips look familiar, but also accessible and just plain pretty, and one of those I mentioned near the entrance seems to have more thin lines and layers than I might have thought possible on paper. The Guggenheim could have tried to make up for this comforting view. By stressing his stubborn, clumsy, early years—or, conversely, by stretching the show’s definition more to encompass small paintings—it could have presented a truly scabrous personality. Pollock sure seemed like one last year, in small works paired at a gallery with those of Krasner. For now the intimacy will have to do, and it lets an officially great American painter become just an artist again, with color and drawing to spare.

John Haber
in New York City

Chagall Featuring Stained-Glass Windows

  Marc Chagall was born in Vitebsk, Russia, in 1887, the eldest of nine children. His father worked curing herring and his mother ran a small shop to make ends meet. At an early age, Chagall showed a talent and love for painting and he worked for an artist as an apprentice and he worked as a retoucher with a local photographer. In one of his earliest paintings, The Kermesse, painted at the age of twenty one, one can see the theme and spirit of his work to come for the rest of his career. In the painting you see the theme of village activity in a funeral procession.

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The figures are alive with movement and expression, making music and walking as if dancing. Chagall’s vision of humble village life transcends the poor conditions, suffering, and death. Acrobats and circus folk line the street and village town-scape, aswell as a scampering black cat. Folklore, fantasy, circus, and animals populate Chagall’s paintings for the next seventy years.

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Chagall’s work does not fit neatly into the history of art, but well into a history of original thinking and fantasy art. He was not interested in the writings of Freud, but his work was dreamlike and appeared to be inspired by an imaginative unconscious. Dream and fantastic imagery was at Chagall’s fingertips. Quoting Francois Le Targat in his introduction in his book on Chagall, ‘We must rediscover the soul of our childhood and give ourselves up to simply marveling; for his work is imbued with the marvelous’ Is not ‘marvelous’, after all, to see red donkeys flying through the air, cocks carrying girls off on their backs, a fiddler who has chosen the roof of the house to play his festive tunes?’

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About on leaving Vitebsk, the town of his childhood, Chagall said ‘he had carried it off with him for ever in his heart.’ Chagall left Vitebsk to work and study in St. Petersburg in 1908. With a series of help from art patrons and painters, Chagall was able to get recommendation for work and study with Bakst, the stage designer for the Ballets Russes and director of the Swanseva art school.

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In 1909 Chagall met Bella Rosenfeld in Vitebsk, she was seven years younger than he, but of a higher social class. Bella Chagall was later to write about her first early impression of the artist, ‘Chagall has the appealing face of a young fau’ but then she compares him to a wild eyed animal, ‘He gestilates as if he were afraid to put his foot on the ground.

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Has he just awoken? His hand has risen and forgotten to come down again’ ‘When he opens his mouth, I hardly know whether he wants to speak or to bite with his sharp, white teeth. Everything in him is movement, a pirouette; he is never still for an instant. As though he were afraid of everything. At every moment he is poised to leap into the air and flee.’ (from Lumieres allumees, translated by Ida Chagall)

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With the help of his art patron, Vivaner, Chagall moved to Paris in 1910 to work in the city that was the Mecca of the arts, leaving Russia and Bella behind. Chagall said that his art, ‘desired Paris like a tree desires water.’ His experience in Paris was to be formative for his profession. Chagall tells about this time, living in La Ruche, a poor district of Paris, among other penniless painters, ‘Life in Montparnasse was marvelous! I used to work all night’When an insulted model began to cry in the next studio, when the Italians sang to the accompaniment of a mandolin, when Soutine came back from the Halles with a brace of putrid chickens to paint, I used to stand alone in my little board-walled cell, standing in front of my easel in the wretched light of a paraffin lamp. For a week, perhaps, the studio had not been swept. The floor was littered with stretchers, eggshells and empty soup tins of the cheapest variety. It was between those four walls that I wiped the dew from my eyes and became a painter.’He also said that it was in Paris he discovered color. He chose not to join a movement or school of art such as the Fauves or Cubists, but he knew many of the artists and was influenced by them. The Fauves influenced his use of color, now more pure and clear, less muddied. The cubists encouraged a de-structuring of imagery, such as seen in his paintings I and the Village, To Russia, to Donkeys and to Others, The Poet (Half Past Three) Golgotha, and Homage to Apollinaire.

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Chagall had close relationships with many painters and poets including Guillaume Apollinaire, Andre Salmon, Leger, Laurens, Modigliani, Soutine, and the Delaunays. Between 1912 and 1914 Chagall showed at the Salon des Independents in Paris and in Amsterdam. Returning to Russia in 1914 he showed twenty five paintings at the official Moscow Exhibition and became friends with several great Russian poets. He married Bella in 1915 and his painting reflects his happiness from the marriage in such famous paintings as The Birthday, Double Portrait with Wine Glass, and Over the Town.
The upheaval of the Russian Revolution drew the nonpolitical Chagall into events. He was appointed Commissar of Art for Vitebsk, but became disillusioned after criticisms of his teaching techniques. He moved to Moscow in 1920 and then back to Paris in 1923 after a nine year stay in Russia. After a period of further hardship, Chagall began to receive more commissions and by 1930 his name was known worldwide.
With the outbreak of war, the Chagalls moved to the south of France and then to the US to escape the Nazi invasion. Chagall was kept busy during the war years painting theatrical and ballet designs. Bella died suddenly, just before the end of the war and Chagall was overcome with grief. He found solace in a relationship with Virginia Haggard in New York.
In 1947 Chagall returned to France and made his home in Vence. He married Valentine Brodsky, called Vava, in 1952. In 1962 he was commissioned to create 12 stained-glass windows for the Hadassah Hospital of the Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem. It was a major masterpiece and he said of it, ‘I felt my father and my mother were looking over my shoulder, and behind them were Jews, millions of other vanished Jews of yesterday and a thousand years ago.’
In 1964 he completed a canvas that covers the ceiling of the Opera in Paris, and two very large murals now in the lobby of the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. He created the American Windows in 1977 for the Chicago Art Institute to celebrate the US bicentennial. In the American Windows Chagall celebrates the greatness of the United States as a country of freedom, liberty, culture and religious tolerance.
Marc Chagall died in 1985 and was buried in France at Saint-Paul. He left a legacy of inspirational art that was like none other. He assimilated modern developments of art into his own personal style, as his own voice stayed true to colorful dreams and fantasies from growing up in Vitebsk, Russia to his life and loves in the US and France. Chagall was one of the 20th century’s most important artists.

Portrait and a Dream, Jackson Pollock (1953)

Artist: There are no second acts in American lives, said F Scott Fitzgerald. And there was no development for Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) after the 1950 exhibition in New York that included his most beautiful,confident and inexplicable abstract paintings – One: Number 31, 1950, Autumn Rhythm: Number 30, 1950 and Lavender Mist: Number 1, 1950. “After the ’50 show, what do you do next?” mused his widow, the painter Lee Krasner. What Pollock did was disintegrate.

Jackson Pollock
Portrait and a Dream
1953

In the brief, glorious period after moving to Long Island, with its view of the rolling, empty sea that reminded him of the prairies of his western childhood, Pollock invented and perfected his method of pouring, flicking and throwing paint on to a horizontal canvas. He created vortices, arabesques and webs of colour that had the authority of something that demanded to be made, to be told. And as he did so, he kept alcoholism at bay.

But after 1950, he lost everything: nerve, conviction, even singularity. He started to draw Picasso-like biomorphic images, while at the same time revelling in gothic self-pity, as in this wonderful, awful painting. Pollock’s late art is self-referential in the extreme, a theatrical wail for help, a conscious autobiography of self-destruction. No one who followed Pollock’s painting in the 1950s can have been surprised by his death in a drunken car crash on the night of August 11 1956.

Subject: Pollock said the head on the right of this painting was a portrait of himself “when I’m not sober”.

Distinguishing features: Pollock’s magic as a painter is in his refusal to acknowledge a gulf between his painting and himself. He spoke of being “in my painting”. His abstract art is not of the rational, ordering mind but of the entire self. This painting, too, is brutally, hysterically a piece of him. The portrait is a clumsy, violent thing, drawn in spiralling, blotted black lines, with that one open jaded eye and a ridiculously ham-fisted shape propped on a body that is too small – proof that Pollock was no Norman Rockwell, no homely illustrator.

The head is almost attacked with colour: non-representational, ungainly but incongruously alive colour. Transgressing the drawn border between the face and its surroundings, Pollock’s jarringly pretty grafts of colour communicate discomfort and anguish, like the colour of Van Gogh.

Melodramatically, Pollock colours the portrait to contrast with the deathly black-and-white tangle of bodies and the unreadable astral forms on the left. He said part of this “dream” denoted “the dark side of the moon”; Krasner later wished she could remember what else he had said about the painting in a moment of lucid confession. Even without its title, you would guess that it represents a head and its contents, a self and its inner life. In contrast to the total immersion of his supreme abstract paintings, Pollock stands apart from his “inner life”.

In his hour – when he had his hour – Pollock believed the mess inside him was somehow communicable and beautiful. Then, it was. Now, separate from this chaos of dreams, he contemplates its violence, menace, tangled psychosexual mayhem, as baffled as we are.

by Jonathan Jones

Jafabrit’s Knitted Tree in the News Again

YELLOW SPRINGS, Ohio — No, that’s not a hallucination. That pear tree is wearing a sweater.

Wrapped around the trunk is a colorful, crazy-quilt skin made up of panels of yarn knitted individually by residents and visitors alike. Good-luck charms cling to the yarn. Family photos, poems and jokes peek out of knitted pockets.

The art project in this southwest Ohio village, already known for its offbeat art, has become a conversation piece and even a photo op.

“What takes this to a different level is it is a community thing,” said Corrine Bayraktaroglu, an artist who helped start the “knitknot tree” project. “People are really, really enjoying it. They’re coming from towns to have their photograph taken with the tree. They’re adding stuff to the pockets.”

Knitters around the U.S. are dressing trees, street signs, benches, door handles and other objects.

Last month, residents of Columbus, Ind., knitted cozies for 33 ornamental pear trees that line the city’s main street. One tree, called the People Hugger, has knitted arms.

Knitted coverings are showing up on trees and doorknobs in Charleston, W.Va. In Houston, knitters have dressed up park benches, car antennas, telephone poles and beer bottles.

“It’s fascinating what’s going on in the knitting world,” Bayraktaroglu said. “Graffiti street art is going to a whole different realm. It’s gone beyond just painting on sides of buildings.”

Artist Carol Hummel is among the pioneers. She crocheted a cozy for a tree in front of City Hall in Cleveland Heights several years ago. It took her 500 hours and the use of a hydraulic lift to dress the upper branches.

The cozy has survived several winters and even a swarm of cicadas, which left their molted skins clinging to the material.

“There are a lot of copycats now,” Hummel said. “A lot of people are getting into putting things on the trees. That’s cool.”

In Yellow Springs, the first knitted panel _ a gold piece with the words “Knitknot Tree” and a smiley face _ went up in October. It wasn’t until early February that more panels began to be added.

Corrine Bayraktaroglu adds another section of knitting to the “Knit Knot Tree” on Xenia Ave. in Yellow Springs, Ohio on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2008. The art project in this southwest Ohio village, already known for its artistic flavor and offbeat art, has become a conversation piece and even a photo op. (AP Photo/Skip Peterson)

Nancy Mellon sews another knitted section to the “Knit Knot Tree” on Xenia Ave. in Yellow Springs, Ohio on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2008. The art project in this southwest Ohio village, already known for its artistic flavor and offbeat art, has become a conversation piece and even a photo op.

“Then it just took off like crazy,” Bayraktaroglu said. “People were coming from out of town and adding their own knitting.”

Artist Nancy Mellon said people love to come up and touch the tree, and children like to check out what’s in the pockets.

“There was a man _ while I was working on the tree _ who walked by, and all he said was ‘Thank you,'” Mellon said.

Other residents in this village about 15 miles east of Dayton also seem to like the dressed-up tree.

“It looks like Yellow Springs; it’s unique, it’s colorful, unpredictable,” said Lynda Sirk. “It makes me smile. That’s what I like.”

The tree is vulnerable to the raised legs of passing pooches. Because of that, the panels of yarn don’t extend all the way to ground level.

As the panels spread up the trunk, the knitters had to follow, first standing on a chair, then a three-step ladder, a 6-foot ladder and finally an 8-foot ladder. They finally decided they had gone high enough after someone suggested scaffolding and village officials began to worry about someone falling.

“The fear factor has kicked in,” Mellon said.

The artists who started the project tentatively plan to remove the knitting on Arbor Day at the end of April and give away the pieces of yarn.

But Bayraktaroglu has some reservations about that.

“People get very attached,” she said, “and I think they’ll be mad at us if we cut it down.”
from the Washington Post

Jafabrit – Biography Guest Piece

I have been wanting to post some of Jafabrit’s work on my blog for quite some time now.  Her work is so amazing and vibrant, she just has to be included.  I recently got in touch with her and got her to write a short biography about herself and what she has been up to.  She was also recently featured in the media due to her tree sweater.  The pic is below and you can check out the article here

Tree Sweater

So courtesy of Jafabrit here is her biography, thanks Corrine

Corrine Bayraktaroglu aka jafabrit

I’m a middle aged multi-media artist living in the middle of Ohio and I like to wear black. I was born in the Northeast of England and had a mother who earned her living as a graphic artist and is a brilliant draughtswoman/portrait artist.  I was exposed to a lot of art at home, and museums etc, in the Northeast and in London. Unfortunately I was under the mistaken notion that one is only capable of being an artist if they can conjure up a portrait or an image within minutes, so I dismissed any idea that I could do art at all. Before I got married and came to America in 1978 I had a variety of jobs, barmaid, kennel maid ( racing greyhounds), usherette, pool hall attendant, data entry operator, auxiliary nurse, croupier. After moving to the USA I did volunteer work and worked seven years in Texas as a suicide crisis counselor.  I thought would go and get my social work degree in 1995, but after my first drawing class and then an oil painting class that was it.  At 40 years old I found a new love in my life and I was smitten.

Naughty Boy

Naughty Boy, Oil on Wood

It has been said that professionally it is a bad thing to do work in so many styles (they are probably right), and it is claimed suggests a lack of focus. I would say bollocks to that. The range of my work is a reflection of my tastes in life, very very eclectic. As a fellow artist noted, “I move between flippancy or gay abandonment to more serious stuff”.  I don’t really concern myself with adhering to a specific style or school of art or art rules. Content dictates the form so I will use any method/means I feel best fits with what I am trying to say with a piece.

Promise Not to Tell

Promise Not To Tell, Oil on Wood, Hammered Tin, Antique Box

I call myself jafabrit because I am the founder of a group called the jafagirls, which is an acronym for “Just Another F%$#*& Artist”. We create what we when we want, how we want and WHENEVER WE ARE IN THE MOOD. We do public art, found art, run a gallery in a local loo, own the art ball machine, sell art, teach art, own an art gallery, and have fun with art. I am also the co-founder and co-curator of the gallery in a local public restroom in the Chamber of Commerce building, called The Chamberpot Gallery. In addition I run a blog for the Yellow Springs Arts Council, as well as mine, and the jafagirlart blog.

 

Here are the blogs and websites I run

Jafabrit’s art  

Jafagirlart 

Yellow Springs Arts Council 

Websites

Chamberpot Gallery 

Jafagirlart