song du jour: Round Midnight, Thelonius Monk

mood: catching my breath

Color Me Splattered

In my 'timeshifting' lifestyle, I only recently got a chance to watch a PBS program that ran a few weeks ago on the legacies of 20th century American painters. Since I missed taping the first minute of the program, I have no idea what the title was, and PBS.org does NOT make it easy to find out even when shopping their DVD's. Whatever this excellent show was, it traced different lineages from American Realist painters like Thomas Eakins through the Abstract Expressionists such as Jackson Pollack and Willem de Kooning, Pop Artists, especially the significance of Andy Warhol and beyond into the 80's with Cindy Sherman and Jean-Michel Basquiat. (humor me, and follow those links at some point. Working on a Mac in Blogger, it just took me 15 minutes to find, copy, and paste in all that code!)

I'm a little weird about 20th century art in general. It's hard to study it and not become wrapped up in it. De Kooning's work I have to force myself to look at, and I'll usually allow my friend, Dana, to drag me to a Picasso show if some museum has managed to con Atlanta's 'ooo, look at our big new building and our one (and only) Monet' High Museum of Art into hosting a worthwhile show. Picasso I deeply appreciate but don't really like. Of the cubists, I viscerally prefer Gris. As un-PC as it's become to say, I think Warhol was brilliant and shouldn't be underestimated for what he brought into our awareness. He created a persona out of almost a lack of one. Most people, in thinking they get his irony and his attitude, miss it entirely. It always surprises me how much I respond to Jackson Pollack's work. As meticulous about craftsmanship and detail as I am, staring at a Pollack drip painting is a welcome relief like the tension of all that order went SPLAT and then was carefully cross sectioned to reveal the secrets of its untamed inner landscape.

For anyone who's ever tried their hand at dribbling paint in an 'anyone could do that' approach, it's soon obvious that elevating mess to that level of artistry isn't easy at all. There's nothing all that mesmerizing about staring at the mess on a drop cloth from painting your ceiling, but whether you like Pollack's work or not, if confronted with a real live painting, odds are you'll feel compelled to look at it for a while. My godmother creates 20 x 30 foot paintings on raw canvas and usually begins them with a similar approach and then 'paints into' the choreographed splatters. When I was a kid, she pushed me into painting that way, and I discovered just how hard it really is. As I watched the video footage of Pollack painting, it's so obvious that the paint gestures were the radiating energy, born of carefully measured intuitive choreography. How he stepped and moved from one end of the canvas to the other was exact and intentional and seeing him in action is a good lesson in how art devoid of context may still stand alone, may still speak to us, but is richer for including the vibrancy of the mind that created it.

My 2 favorite quotes from the whole 2 hour program:

Think about the time that they [Pollack and de Kooning] were doing that work. Bohemia wasn't something you could get at The Gap. - Fred Tomaselli

At a certain point these rhythms and those patterns and those directions become incredibly calculated, and they've been rehearsed sort of over time. It's like a dancer. When you do a certain set of moves over and over and over again they become encoded as a pattern of the way the body is going to move. After he [Pollack] did the first one, everything else was plotted after that, as far as I'm concerned because you can't be spontaneous within the frame. If you're using the same tools, then you mean to acheive the same end. That's mastery in a way. That's artistry. - Henry James Marshall

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