Sharing my Birthday with Jackson Pollock

American artist Jackson Pollock was an alcoholic, manic-depressant and often an uncontrollable, angry and insecure man. However, when he painted, he found a sense of freedom and peace, a release from his anger and sadness.

The movie “Pollock ”is, in essence, Ed Harris’ labor of love. He bought the rights to the book a decade ago and ended up producing, directing and starring in the film. The film isn’t about art, nor does it try to portray an artist who was a madman and a genius; it is about giving us insight into the way art affected the artist.

The movie follows the latter years of Pollock’s life –we see him rise to fame as a painter and we watch him struggle with life as his alcoholism, ego and violent nature wear him down slowly. Standing by him and often taking care of him is Lee Krasner (Marcia Gay Harden), who was also a painter and ended up becoming Pollock’s lover, wife, and biggest supporter. Well aware of Pollock’s conflicts, Krasner often put aside her own needs and aspirations. She recognized his talent and brilliance as an artist and wanted to see him succeed, forfeiting her own career. She balanced his erratic nature by being a strong supporter at his side.

The movie Pollock” is a wonderful film that showcases an artist whose brilliant talent and erratic behavior paradoxically gained him fame and cost him his demise. Harris and Harden are superb in their roles.


Claes Oldenburg

Claes Oldenburg was born in 1929 in Stockholm, Sweden. The son of a Swedish Consul General, he came to Chicago in 1936. After finishing his studies at Yale University, New Haven, he started to work as a reporter. In 1952 he attended a course at the Chicago Art Institute, published drawings in several magazines and began to paint pictures that were influenced by Abstract Expressionism.

In 1956 he moved to New York where he met Jim Dine. In 1958 he met Alan Kaprow and took part in his Happenings. In 1958-59 he arranged his first sculptural, Neo-Dadaist assemblages of plaster and garbage soaked in striking colors. These led to his environments (The Street, The Store etc.). He also started at this time to make replicas of foods like hamburgers, ice-cream and cakes, which prepared the ground for his soft sculptures. In 1964 and 1968 he was represented at the Venice Biennale, and in 1968 and 1972 at the documenta”4″ and documenta “5”, Kassel.

In 1972 he arranged his Mouse Museum. A comprehensive retrospective of his projects, documents and sketches was shown at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1969. The Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, gave him a retrospective in 1970. From 1976 he collaborated on large-scale projects with Coosje van Bruggen, whom he married in 1977. He was represented at the documenta “6”, 1977, and documenta “7”, 1982, at Kassel. The Moderna Museet, Stockholm, and the Kunsthalle Tübingen gave him a retrospective of his drawings in 1977. His environment Mouse Museum / Ray Gun Wing was arranged in 1979 at the Museum Ludwig, Cologne.

In 1983 he made his large sculpture of a toothbrush for the Museum Haus Esters, Krefeld. In 1984 he made his proposals for the large project The Course of the Knife for Venice, which was then shown in collaboration with the architect Frank Gehry at the Campo dell’Arsenale, accompanied by performances which he took part in himself. He then went on to collaborate with Gehry on other projects that related to architecture in Boston and Los Angeles. In 1989 the Wilhelm Lehmbruck Museum, Duisburg, organized the exhibition “Claes Oldenburg -Coosje van Bruggen, A Bottle of Notes and Some Voyages.”


I am going away for a few days so I am doing some advanced posting about my favourite artists who have birthdays this month, and this is my all time favourite with whom I share a birthday.  And Happy Birthday to my son for the 30th January.

Did You Know?

Many things have been written about Pollock but there are still many things that we don’t know. Here are a few facts about the man behind the myth.

Did You Know…

Lee Krasner, Jackson Pollock’s wife, changed her name. Her original name is Lenore Krassner.

Pollock’s real first name is Paul. Right around the time that he moved to New York to study with Benton in 1930, he decided to drop his first name and use his middle name of Jackson.

The only person to survive Pollock’s deadly car accident was his lover, Ruth Kligman.

One of his most famous works is Blue Poles, painted in 1952. It was created with enamel and aluminum paint with glass on a canvas.

The most important element in Pollock’s paintings is that of lines. When he first started using the method of pouring and dripping paint onto canvas, it resulted in huge areas covered with complex linear patterns that created image and form.

“Jackson Pollock: Is he the greatest living painter in the United States?” That was the question on the front cover of Life magazine on August 8, 1949.

His first experiment with liquid paint was at the Siquieros workshop in New York, 1936.

The French equivalent of action painting, a form of abstract expressionism associated with Pollock, is Tachisme.

Pollock was nicknamed Jack the Dripper because he literally dripped paint onto his canvas to create unique, intricate pieces.

His brother Sanford knew Jackson had a special talent. In 1941, he wrote a letter to their eldest brother Charles about Jackson. He said if Jackson could “hold himself together, his work will become of real significance. His painting is abstract, intense, evocative in quality.”

Pollock’s paintings differed from before he moved to the Hamptons and right after the move. Before moving to The Springs in East Hampton with his wife, his imagery was congested, the colors were somber, and the overall mood of his paintings was anxious and conflicted.

After the move to the country, the colors were brighter, his compositions were more open, and the imagery reflected a new responsiveness to nature.

His work Blue Poles, 1952 was originally inscribed with a ‘3’ and subsequently painted over with a ‘2’.

In 1949, Pollock decided to number his paintings, including the year they were created, instead of using descriptive titles. This began with his 1949 solo exhibition at the Betty Parsons Gallery.

Downward arching stretch-marks at the top edge of the canvas are common with Pollock’s works. This is because he would often hang them along a beam in his studio; another step in his creation process.

Jackson Pollock
Before Blue Poles

Jackson Pollock 'Blue Poles: Number 11, 1952' 1952enamel and aluminium paint with glass on canvas, Collection of the National Gallery of Australia © Jackson Pollock, 1952/ARS. Licensed by VISCOPY, Sydney 2002 Jackson Pollock ‘Blue Poles: Number 11, 1952’ enamel and aluminium paint with glass on canvas, Collection of the National Gallery of Australia © Jackson Pollock, 1952/ARS. Licensed by VISCOPY, Sydney 2002 click to enlarge

The abstract paintings of the American artist Jackson Pollock (1912–1956) are among the highest achievements of 20th-century art. During an unparalleled period of creativity from the late 1940s to the early 50s, Pollock abandoned the conventional tools and methods of the painter, putting aside brushes, artist’s paint and traditional composition, and poured and flung house paint directly onto large canvases placed on the floor. Inspired by the work of earlier modern artists that he admired such as Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró, Pollock’s painting has had an enormous impact on contemporary art up to the present day.

Pollock’s life story is no less startling than his art. From humble beginnings in a family of Wyoming farmers, he struggled for years to overcome an apparent lack of natural talent before his rise to artistic stardom in the New York art world. Pollock’s fame – fuelled by articles in the popular press such as Life magazine which in 1949 posed the question ‘Is he the greatest living painter in the United States?’ – was followed by a slide into alcoholism and depression, and a concomitant decline in output. His death in a car accident at the age of 44 has prompted comparisons to other short-lived American icons, such as Charlie Parker and James Dean.

Within the life and work of this extraordinary artist, the National Gallery of Australia’s Blue Poles: Number 11, 1952 occupies a special place. Pollock’s last monumental abstract painting, Blue Poles is the final instalment in a series of works which have changed the course of modern art. The controversy, however, that followed the work’s purchase for 1.3 million Australian dollars – a record price at the time both here and in the United States – and the subsequent claims that the work began as a drunken collaboration between Pollock and other artists, have made it difficult to see the picture through the journalistic hype. The time is ripe for a re-evaluation of Blue Poles.

The focus exhibition Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles, at the Gallery from 4 October 2002 until 27 January 2003, commemorates the painting’s 50th anniversary, and explores the meaning of Blue Poles by placing it within the broader development of the artist’s work. Paintings, drawings and prints by Pollock from the Gallery’s collection will be displayed alongside a selection of his works borrowed from American and European museums. Representing key moments in the artist’s career, the exhibition will trace the evolution of Pollock’s style from the early figurative work of the 1930s to the abstract ‘drip’ paintings of the 50s, leading to a fuller understanding of the genesis of Blue Poles.

Jackson Pollock painting, Summer 1950, photo: Hans Namuth Jackson Pollock painting, Summer 1950 photo: Hans Namuth click to enlarge

The turning point in Pollock’s career was the mid-1940s. Two significant events occurred in 1945: his marriage to fellow artist Lee Krasner and their move to a house in the countryside in East Hampton. It was in the studio that they set up in the barn that Pollock first began pouring paint, either straight out of the can or with sticks and hardened brushes, directly onto a canvas placed on the floor. In an interview he justified his unusual method of painting by saying that ‘the modern painter cannot express this age, the airplane, the atom bomb, the radio, in the old forms of the Renaissance or of any other past culture’.1 Pollock felt that his painting technique reflected not only the ‘inner world’ of the unconscious but also the cultural experience of the time he was living in.2 Unexpectedly, to express these things, he felt compelled to move away from figurative art. As he remarked in 1949: ‘I try to stay away from any recognisable image; if it creeps in, I try to do away with it . . . to let the painting come through. I don’t let the image carry the painting . . . It’s extra cargo and unnecessary.’3 It was important that the meaning of the art work should not be carried by any recognisable image, as this was something extraneous to the medium of painting itself: ‘Experience of our age in terms of painting – not an illustration  of but the equivalent: concentrated, fluid.’4 To express the modern age, painting would have to be equal to that age – not to illustrate it through an image but to participate in the intensity and fluidity of modern society through the very manner in which the painting was produced.

Although Pollock rejected many of the traditional methods of artistic control over his painting, preferring to pour, dribble, fling and pool paint onto the canvas, the effect is often staggering and incredibly beautiful. In the ‘classic’ pictures of the period 1947–50, such as One: Number 31, 1950 the black, white, brown, and blue-green arcs of flung paint on unprimed canvas seem to cartwheel before the viewer’s eyes in a majestic dance of colour. Neither a nihilistic statement nor a ‘paint pot flung in the public’s face,’ Pollock used the effects of gravity, liquidity of materials, and the collisions between paint and canvas to show the viewer how oil paint behaves when it is pooled, what enamel looks like when it is thrown onto different kinds of surfaces – either dry paint, wet paint or unprimed canvas. Similarly, in his smaller scale enamel on paper works, such as Number 12, 1949 we are directly confronted by the vivid, shiny physicality of the enamel, as well as the extraordinary effects of puckering, marbling, puddling and interlacing of paint in all its raw beauty. In other words, he allowed the materials to speak their own language. As the traces of gravity, liquidity, and fortuitous occurrences appear to have taken place with a minimum intervention of the artist, the painting has what Pollock claimed it should: ‘a life of its own.’5

At the same time, as the art historian Meyer Schapiro has pointed out, dripping is one of the painterly techniques of ‘handling, processing, surfacing, which confer to the utmost degree the aspect of the freely made’.6 Pollock signalled through his liberated use of materials that he was free of constraints on his own individuality, artistic or societal. He was liberated to the extent of not entirely planning in advance what he was going to do. His works were not based on preliminary studies: ‘I don’t work from drawings, I don’t make sketches and drawings and color sketches into a final painting.’ Moreover, as he commented ‘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.’7 In other words, he freed himself from his own pre-conceptions of what would happen on the canvas, giving free rein to the physical body and its performance ‘in’ the painting. By working in large scale and by placing the canvas on the floor, Pollock allowed his full body movement to be engaged. We read the grand, sweeping lines of flung paint in One: Number 31, 1950 not as the result of a rationally driven, artistic ordering process but rather as evidence of the physical arc of the arm as it swings across the canvas. This focus on the physical, combined with the often-published photographs by Hans Namuth of the artist at work has been instrumental in the notion of Pollock as the ‘action painter’, an artist more concerned with the authenticity of the physical act of painting than with the measured consideration of the how the act should be performed.

detail: Jackson Pollock 'Blue Poles: Number 11, 1952' 1952enamel and aluminium paint with glass on canvas, Collection of the National Gallery of Australia © Jackson Pollock, 1952/ARS. Licensed by VISCOPY, Sydney 2002 detail: Jackson Pollock ‘Blue Poles: Number 11, 1952’ 1952enamel and aluminium paint with glass on canvas, Collection of the National Gallery of Australia © Jackson Pollock, 1952/ARS. Licensed by VISCOPY, Sydney 2002 click to enlarge

Nevertheless, as Pollock himself insisted, he did carefully orchestrate his actions in such a way as to ‘deny the accident’.8 The delicate tracings of splashed, dribbled and flowing pigment actually attest to the control that Pollock had over his materials, demonstrating that part of the artist’s intention was to exploit accident while managing his performance with extraordinary dexterity. As Frank O’Hara once wrote about Pollock’s painting:

There has never been enough said about Pollock’s draftsmanship, that amazing ability to quicken a line by thinning it, to slow it by flooding, to elaborate that simplest of elements, the line – to change, to reinvigorate, to extend, to build up an embarrassment of riches in the mass by drawing alone. 9

It is for this reason that the paintings are so compelling, because in Pollock’s work we have the feeling of order wrested out of disorder. Giving in to the nature of the materials and the forces of gravity, and giving free rein to the human desire to burst all constraints, Pollock’s paintings were able to embody a recurrent theme in contemporary America, that of modern man as ‘the helpless prey of forces both within and without himself’. At the same time, by exhibiting his technical finesse in the management of these forces, Pollock achieved a victory in the face of what could only seem impossible odds.10

Another important element of Pollock’s technique is the ‘all-over’ composition. When we look at the classic paintings and our eye roves over the surface looking for some way of making sense of the picture, we realise that it is not easy to identify discrete areas of the canvas that can be differentiated visually. As the critic Clement Greenberg argued, the all-over composition, in which the traditional distinction between figure and ground is all but obliterated, responds to a modern feeling that ‘all hierarchical distinctions have been exhausted, that no area or order of experience is either intrinsically or relatively superior to any other’.11 Rather than imposing hierarchy onto our experience of the painting, Pollock asks the viewer to choose his or her own points of interest. As Pollock insisted, the viewer ‘should not look for, but look passively – and try to receive what the painting has to offer’.12 To look for, to bring a pre-conceived idea to the painting, would interfere with the experience of being in front of the work.

Crucial to understanding the 1952 painting Blue Poles is the knowledge that it is a late work in which Pollock re-assessed his drip style in the classic pictures of 1947–50. In many respects, the approach in Blue Poles is similar to his earlier works such as One: Number 31, 1950; the painting is built up with successive layers of dripped and poured paint evenly dispersed across the canvas. However, it also differs in a number of important respects, not least of which are the strong vertical elements of the ‘poles’. As the exhibition Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles demonstrates, this departure was both a reprise of a recurrent motif in Pollock’s work and a self-conscious re-evaluation of the painting technique for which he was famous.

Francis Picabia – Birthday

A free spirit takes liberties even with liberty itself.
Francis Picabia

A new gadget that lasts only five minutes is worth more than an immortal work that bores everyone.
Francis Picabia

Between my head and my hand, there is always the face of death.
Francis Picabia

God invented concubinage, satan marriage.
Francis Picabia

Good taste is as tiring as good company.
Francis Picabia

If you want to have clean ideas, change them as often as your shirt.
Francis Picabia

Knowledge is ancient error reflecting on its youth.
Francis Picabia

Let us never forget that the greatest man is never more than an animal disguised as a god.
Francis Picabia

Maybe men are separated from each other only by the degree of their misery.
Francis Picabia

Men have always need of god! A god to defend them against other men.
Francis Picabia

My arse contemplates those who talk behind my back.
Francis Picabia

My ass contemplates those who talk behind my back.
Francis Picabia

Only useless things are indispensable.
Francis Picabia

Pain has its reasons, pleasure is totally indifferent.
Francis Picabia

The essence of a man is found in his faults.
Francis Picabia

The family spirit has rendered man carnivorous.
Francis Picabia

The world is divided into two categories: failures and unknowns.
Francis Picabia

Youth doesn’t reason, it acts. The old man reasons and would like to make the others act in his place.
Francis Picabia