Catalog Essay | September 17, 2020 | Lot 45
Jackson Pollock arrived in New York in 1930 as a young art student from Los Angeles. He studied with Thomas Hart Benton at the Art Students League. Early in his career he absorbed the ideals of the European Surrealists, Mexican Socialist Muralists including David Alfaro Siqueiros and Jose Clemente Orozco and Picasso through works like Les Demoiselles d’Avignon exhibited at MoMA in 1945.
As a young artist, he worked for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) alongside Mark Rothko and Arshile Gorky. In the early 1940s championed by critic Clement Greenberg and patrons and gallerists Betty Parsons and Peggy Guggenheim he started to earn recognition and success as an artist. MoMA became the first museum to acquire a painting by Pollock, The She-Wolf of 1943.
The present drawing offered here harkens back to Pollock’s early works where he was exploring Surrealist and Symbolist themes. The calligraphic imagery captures the viewer by being almost legible as biomorphic glyphs dancing across the paper. The spontaneity of the composition and the gestural qualities evoked by each flourish are evidence of a competent and sure hand.
The following passages were adapted from “Jackson Pollock: The Colored Paper Drawings,” an exhibition at Washburn Gallery in New York City where the present work was included.
In his drawings and works on paper, which were an integral part of his working life, Pollock used a wide variety of media: pencil, crayon, colored pencil, ink gouache, tempera, watercolor, pastel, chalk, and enamel, alone and in combination. He worked on sketchbook sheets; textured, lined, and colored paper; Japanese paper; and other fine handmade papers.
Elizabeth Frank, “Notes on Technique” in Jackson Pollock (New York: Abbeville Press, 1983), pp. 114-115.
Pollock often chose to work on surfaces prepared with one evenly saturated color [as in the example offered here]. The colors of these sheets don’t become local to the mostly inked-on images but rather provide ground tone, a continuum extensive as surface, air or light, or sometimes all of these. Given a red, gray, light or dark blue, pink, brown or purple tone, the stage is set. Literally grounded or aswim in color, Pollock’s fancy wanders. The viewer’s imagination, too, is set loose among the resultant, accumulated conjurings.
The drawings can be seen as instances of a vast storyboard…It looks like aimless doodling until you catch onto the sequencing, the syntax. Perhaps therein lie the fundamentals of Pollock’s genius: a high tolerance for the notionally unintelligible backed by extraordinary deftness at pattern recognition. There are no semaphores. The graceful interstices add up in clusters articulated.
…Across a single spread may unfold a sensuous diary entry recounting the several adventures of a biomorph or just how many ways a flick of the wrist can make a black stain turn—all in a day’s work, so to speak. The endlessness of Pollock’s entanglement occurs not in unchecked infinitude but within each discrete site of the tangle itself, the surface Pollock made with whatever medium he took up . The support for such a fictive surface —-in this case, some piece of paper—- retains in every dimension the plainness of its boundaries. Thus, the interval between the image and surface closes. (Bill Berkson, November 1999)
In 1956, at 44 years old, Pollock died in an automobile accident. His wife and artist, Lee Krasner, continued to further his legacy donating major works to museum collections. Pollock is today recognized as one of the leading proponents of Abstract Expressionism and one of the most groundbreaking American artists.
Abstract painting is abstract. It confronts you. There was a reviewer a while back who wrote that my pictures didn’t have any beginning or any end. He didn’t mean it as a compliment, but it was. - Jackson Pollock