Summertime and Blue Poles

In my opinion, one of the greatest painters of the last century is Jackson Pollock.  I don’t know what it is, but when I see a Pollock painting it just stirs all kinds of emotions in me.  I remember going to the Tate Modern in London years ago and at the time I had no idea what to expect.  I was just walking around in awe at some of the art on display and thinking to myself WTF at other installations.  Just meaning there were some things that I just didn’t get.

Not long before I had visited the gallery I had seen the movie with Ed Harris titled ‘Pollock’, which was basically when I fell in love with abstract expressionism and foremost Pollock’s work, so you can imagine how I felt when I walked around the corner and ‘Summertime’ smacked me in the eyeballs.

Summertime: Number 9A 1948 by Jackson Pollock 1912-1956

I remembered the painting from the movie when Pollock posed in front of it for the picture which was included in a feature in ‘Life’ magazine.  I think this was probably the first time I had ever been so amazed and moved by any painting or artwork that I had ever seen and I have seen a lot of beautiful paintings.


A second beautiful painting by Pollock is ‘Blue Poles’ when you see it in books and photos, you just don’t realise how big it is.  Unfortunately, I haven’t seen this piece and I expect I will never be fortunate enough to get to Australia and see it, but you never know.  Here’s a little video about it by the person who looks after the painting.


I suppose seeing ‘Blue Poles’ would be much like seeing ‘Summertime’ which is also a massive painting, with a massive statement.  It was after seeing this painting that I knew I had to work on big surfaces myself to be able to express myself properly, so that’s what I do as much as possible.  I don’t have space now, but I want a nice big studio one day.


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

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