When the young Wyoming-born painter, Jackson, came from California to New York in 1930, wearing his leather jacket and cowboy boots, he had already promised himself to become a bright star in the difficult sky of contemporary art. Those were the years in which his admired Picasso was imposing in New York, with a style despised by some and imitated by others.
Years later, David Siqueiros explained his methods of mural painting to his disciples with new techniques for new ideas and the young Pollock listened to that – and with equal attention – to the mythological aspects of the old native culture of the continent that the Mexican master let hear.
By then, Jack’s friend, Lenore, was attending Hans Hofmann’s painting classes – one of the great masters of abstract art first at Berkeley and then in New York – who would open the eyes of several generations of interested American artists. At her insistence the young man will visit some of Hofmann’s classes, but the impulsive ideas of the volcanic artist and the German teacher remained hopelessly irreconcilable.
In those years America was also enriched with artists coming from an Europe at war: Chagall, Dalí, Léger, Mondrian, Breton, Matta, Zadkine, Onzenfant, Miró, were some of the many names that would leave a mark on the American present.
Accompanied by the surrealist Max Ernst, Marguerite “Peggy” Guggenheim would also return to New York to open the gallery “Art of this Century”. Pollock signed an exclusive contract with her and exhibited annually between 1942 and 1947. When Peggy moved to Venice, Betty Parsons continued her effective work as a gallery owner with equal success.
America was at that time in search of a generation of artists who would give it the desired cultural identity that would distance itself from the inheritance received. The propitious moment of the victorious postwar period places America in a new historical epoch. In a psychoanalytic sense came the crucial moment of “killing” its parents to “be itself” and doing tabula rasa with European artistic tradition which propels abstract expressionism as a typical modern American language and Jackson Pollock as the leader of the generation.
Life Magazine shows him in 1950 with a rhetoric question: Is he the greatest living artist in the United States? Hans Namuth’s photo and also the film of that year are still part of the legendary artistic documents of the twentieth century.
So, what is new?
He is the author of a new pictorial language.
On the one hand we observe that Pollock will extend the traditional pallet to a floor full of cans with flowing matter, the brushes will be changed by short wooden slats handled with agile dexterity and the easel will become a great horizontal dimension (new habitat of the artist) where he will leave the strokes of color according to his body movement: a universe full of rhythms, without figurative description or immediate meditations.
Everything is, nothing seems. Matter will become energy and turn into space. Painting is action.
The solution of the painting becomes visible as a product of the spontaneous gesture such as a surrealist text according to the “écriture automatique” method. For his splash art they will call him: “Jack the dripper”.
While painting there in a dance-like action on the canvas and, as spots appear on the canvas like stars in the Milky Way (which he himself will have seen well in the serene nights of East Hampton), he becomes the unique inhabitant of the cosmic space created, at least during the act of creating it.
In order to recreate the genesis of his paintings we must come to memory the ancestral rites of the American Indians (which the artist admired).
A critic of the time claims that these works have no beginning or end, Pollock feels flattered: that is precisely his vision of a pictorial space (almost) without limits.
Unfortunately, the search for other limits and frequent depressions led him to drink too much and prevented him from working steadily, sadly pushing him to a premature death.
Lenore was able to separate herself from Jack’s personal style and became a solid American avant-garde artist of international weight: Lee Krasner.
By the way: Jack could never come to know that that one day the MoMA decided to hang a large picture of him replacing one of almost the same size of his admired Picasso.
In a previous issue we talked about the importance of creating a personal pictorial language. I believe that there is one of the keys to what we call artistic creation.
Just as the art of oratory implies knowledge of the rules of dialectics and rhetoric, clarity of ideas, structure of discourse, or the use of gesture (or silence) at the given moment, the use of the language of art goes beyond a trivial search for what is fleetingly modern or to extend itself in demonstrations of convincing techniques.
It is a question of combining in the artistic work, the personality, the acquired experiences, and the intuition with greater conviction and coherence. Beyond its power of conviction and the talent of the artist, the result will undoubtedly be an original character.
Towards the end of the 1920s Europe tried to forget the tragic memories of the great war with drink and the rhythm of Charleston.
A young Irishman named Francis Bacon, raised under the authoritarian dictation of a father without love, departed from his home to discover and admire the pursuits of avant-garde French art that demolished traditional schools.
The crazy years implied new ideas that the Cubists and the surrealists knew to condense giving new directions to the artistic searches of the moment.
Bacon, who had no academic training found in these sources the guiding compass of his hesitant pictorial beginnings.
From their first paintings in low key, and almost monochrome, are seen figures whose faces, more or less grotesque, see mouths in need of air, they let out inaudible shouts in hermetic boxes, bodies in situations of clear physical discomfort. Although his self-portraits arrive late in his painting, it is obvious that Bacon uses his paintings to reflect his spiritual fatigue, his inner torture, his need for rebellion, his chronic asthma.
Bacon starts from a chaos (internal) to the search for an (external) order.
The dominant element in the created space is the figure (organic element) in a context that tends to the geometric order (tectonic element).
The human figure appears in his paintings with animal characteristics, his animal figures in turn appear sensibly humanized. Both are irritated, unstable, distressed, isolated, tense. The box / cage space is related to both focusing the composition and giving the situation an almost narcissistic exhibitionism.
Bacon is often inspired by works or photographs from the past to make his present. Rembrandt, Velazquez, Tiziano, Muybridge, Eisenstein, Soutine, Giacometti, Picasso do not fail to suggest ideas and admiration. They are the starting point sometimes of series of paintings for years, nevertheless we look almost in vain for their influence. It does not matter that there are other names at the origin. Little is left, everything has changed.
Over the years Bacon’s pictorial language is debugged and clarified, color selection is enlarged and saturated. His work is fighting and his personality is enough to create an imprint that has left imitators for decades.
Although the aggressiveness of the treatment of the figure, the virulence of the stroke and also the construction of the space created appear to be separate from reality, Bacon uses painting as a faithful mirror of biographical aspects that only with art are visible without scandal or tampering making his to be a whole.
*Study for a Self-portrait—Triptych, 1985–86 -https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Study_for_a_Self-portrait%E2%80%94Triptych,_1985%E2%80%9386.jpg
Note about the article: The following article, written in Spanish by Professor Cristian Korn, was translated into English. We have intentionally preserved all its linguistic authenticity. Professor Korn, a multilingual artist, refers to his proficiency in the English language as “primitive” feeling more comfortable writing in Spanish. Professor Korn will continue to share his art knowledge with our Collectors via this section of our newsletter
“That’s horrible” said the boy in front of Picasso’s “Woman with Rooster”
He was referring to Woman with Rooster, painting in the permanent collection of the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart museum in Germany, a few days ago. Outside there was sun and people were walking unhurriedly and without sorrows.
The painting shows a human being (active element), a defenseless animal lying and a gun (passive elements) in pyramidal composition centered on a space barely suggested. The scene shows tension. This is therefore an imminent sacrifice.
“Woman with Rooster” was painted in February 1938 a few months from the “Guernica” (pictorial allegation of paramount importance in Picasso’s universe and first international guest in the international exhibition of Paris and later for decades in the MOMA in New York until its finally arrival to Spain in 1981). Picasso would have regretted having died without seeing the painting in his homeland.
Reading a work of art has various aspects of analysis.
In “Woman with Rooster,” biographic, social and plastic elements converge equally. Here are some ways of analyzing the work:
Picasso, during the second half of his thirties, suffers severe emotional conflicts based on his difficult separation from Olga Chochlova. At the same time was the development of its parallel relationship with Marie-Therese Walter mother of Maia, Picassos’ first daughter, and the emergence of Dora Maar in the artist’s love life.
Three women with unequal characteristics inspire Picasso also unequally:
Olga, of Russian background and a ballet dancer, had suggested for Picasso a neoclassical search.
Marie-Thérèse whose Nordic appearance, extremely young and lover of sports, would inspire elegant rounded shapes and rhythms.
Dora, finally, of Yugoslavian origin, an artist herself, known in the group of the Surrealists for her collages and photographs, was introduced to Picasso in 1936, the first year of the gruesome Spanish civil war.
From a historical perspective, today we see that the Spanish war as a preamble to World War II. Picasso at the time feels the fratricidal tear of his people as a fierce destruction, effectively fatal. The cruelty of those years in his country and his personal battles in search of emotional stability generates unprecedented distortions in the treatment of form in his art work
Portrait d’Olga dans un fauteuil (Olga in an Armchair), 1918, Musée Picasso, Paris, France. Image from Wikipedia.com
It is under these pressures that beautiful Dora’s face will be subjected to extreme deformations, viscerally uncomfortable contrasts and distortions of egregious size. These transformations reflect on Picasso’s internal and external passionate experiences lived of personal, emotional nature and, the individual, collective social tear, which reveal characters in roles and situations as open wounds.
In the painting “Women with Rooster,” we hesitate to say if the main character is truly a woman, especially recognizing the proximity of the face to a Picasso self-portrait of 1937. But it is clear that it should be a woman to liken the situation to a typical Michelangelo’s “Pieta”, in the Vatican collection, with his painful passion.
The rooster, which in the past has been a symbol of courage and beauty, and, a subject of numerous studies in the graphic work of Picasso of those years, comes with claws effectively strung and wings brutally handcuffed, a prisoner unable to escape.
Dirty and reddish soil announces blood and the character seems to raise her right hand, barely sketched, showing an empty glass.
Picasso accompanies the scene with different treatment in the oils, showing changes in strategy. There are ideas, frustration and struggle.
The Figure used to show more blue and more dress where now the stunned, writhing rooster foresees his fate. The background was completely repainted with masses of white where the blows of the spatula create a wall of tactile relief isolating all. We can also see scratches created with the paint brush. The black, severe, pathetical line encloses the figures. The formal resolution of the work, with the specific exception of color treatment is quite similar to that of the Guernica, the inhuman bombing in the Bascan City still remains fresh in memory.
Surely the boy’s comment of the painting was correct.