CLAYTON ON ART: "Jackson Pollock: Works from the Museum of Modern Art"

By Alec Clayton on January 1, 2013


If I had planned on recommending a book for art lovers for Christmas I would recommend the one that was given to me: Jackson Pollock: Works from the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and from European Collections by Volkmar Essers.

If you're a Pollock fan you're probably thinking you already know all about him and you've seen just about all of his paintings - in reproduction if not in the original. Besides, all those drip paintings look alike.

Wrong. I've seen only a handful of his original works, but I have seen a lot in reproduction. I've watched the famous Jackson Pollock film by Hans Namuth and the movie with Ed Harris. I've also thumbed through stacks of books about Pollock, and I read Jackson Pollock: An American Saga, the biography by Steven Naifeh and Gregory Smith, which is generally acknowledged as the authoritative biography.  But there were paintings reproduced in the modest-sized hardback book that I had never seen. Especially a lot of very interesting pictures of some of his early paintings that were heavily influenced by American Indian art, Surrealism and the psychoanalytic writings of Sigmund Freud and C.J. Jung.

The text is slim but well written with most of the essential information you might want and the most important quotes from Pollock's interviews. The most famous of his quotes was when he talked about why he prefers painting on raw canvas on the floor. "On the floor I am more at ease, I feel nearer, more a part of the painting, since this way I can walk around in it, work from the four sides and be literally ‘in' the painting."

The idea of being in the painting had huge reverberations throughout the art world for years to come. He also talked about how he starts a painting without any clear idea of where he's going - a getting acquainted period - and how he then responds to the painting in a kind of artistic give-and-take. The perfect description of what was called action painting or gestural abstraction, two common synonyms for a branch of Abstract Expressionism that put great emphasis on energy and gesture.

It's been more than half a century since Pollock's heyday, but his impact on modern art has not waned in the least.

So, if you didn't get this book for Christmas, maybe you can buy it for yourself. It retails for $30 but copies are available from Amazon from $9.60 to $12.99. Not bad for an outstanding art book. It is a catalog book first published on the occasion of a noted exhibition at the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen in Düsseldorf, Germany. It presents important paintings from that exhibition as well as graphic works from the New York Museum of Modern Art and from several European collections. The writeris curator at the museum Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen in Düsseldorf.

LINK: South Sound art reviews by Alec Clayton