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Jackson Pollock

Jackson Pollock

Evelyn Toynton
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Jackson Pollock
    Book Description:

    Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) not only put American art on the map with his famous "drip paintings," he also served as an inspiration for the character of Stanley Kowalski in Tennessee Williams'sA Streetcar Named Desire-the role that made Marlon Brando famous. Like Brando, Pollock became an icon of rebellion in 1950s America, and the brooding, defiant persona captured in photographs of the artist contributed to his celebrity almost as much as his notorious paintings did. In the years since his death in a drunken car crash, Pollock's hold on the public imagination has only increased. He has become an enduring symbol of the tormented artist-our American van Gogh.

    In this highly engaging book, Evelyn Toynton examines Pollock's itinerant and poverty-stricken childhood in the West, his encounters with contemporary art in Depression-era New York, and his years in the run-down Long Island fishing village that, ironically, was transformed into a fashionable resort by his presence. Placing the artist in the context of his time, Toynton also illuminates the fierce controversies that swirled around his work and that continue to do so. Pollock's paintings captured the sense of freedom and infinite possibility unique to the American experience, and his life was both an American rags-to-riches story and a darker tale of the price paid for celebrity, American style.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16337-7
    Subjects: History, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xvi)

    In October 1948, the photojournalism magazineLifefeatured a roundtable discussion in which an international panel of figures from the world of culture was asked to give its views on whether “modern art, considered as a whole, [was] a good or bad development.”¹Life, at that time the leading weekly in the United States, was conservative in its politics and much concerned with issues of morality. Its implicit disapproval of modern art was based on a belief that the work of contemporary painters was divorced from any moral purpose, “with no ethical or theological references.” The terms of the debate...

  4. Chapter One
    (pp. 1-11)

    While the Second World War had left Europe devastated and impoverished, America was in the midst of an unprecedented economic boom. It was also, for the first time in its history, a dominant world power. One might expect, then, that the atmosphere in the country would be one of boundless confidence and optimism. But there was little of the comfortable sense of security that other great powers, at the height of their wealth and influence, had felt.

    The belief in a benevolent God, in the innate goodness of humankind, in the radiant future that technological progress would make possible, had...

  5. Chapter Two
    (pp. 12-27)

    Much has been made of the fact that Pollock was born in Cody, Wyoming, a town founded by none other than Buffalo Bill. Legend had it that Pollock had actually been a cowboy; his early reputation as “the cowboy painter” was particularly thrilling to the French, who were eager to see him as an American primitive, a naïf. Even Robert Hughes, in discussing Pollock’s great paintings of the late forties, relates them to “that peculiarly American landscape experience . . . which was part of his natural heritage as a boy in Cody, Wyoming.”¹

    Yet he lived in Cody only...

  6. Chapter Three
    (pp. 28-39)

    Krasner first climbed the stairs to Pollock’s apartment in November 1941. In the following month, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and America was at war. One of the immediate effects was the winding down of the Federal Art Project, known by then as the Program, which had come under mounting attack as the exigencies of war increasingly required that resources be allocated elsewhere. After a brief period working under Krasner doing window displays for the Program’s War Services Division, and another stint as a “trainee in aviation sheet metal,” Pollock was let go, along with all the other Program artists,...

  7. Chapter Four
    (pp. 40-48)

    Though he was gaining a reputation among the downtown artists, Pollock’s second show at Art of This Century, which took place in the spring of 1945, was, if anything, even less of a commercial and critical success than his first exhibition there. There were no sales at all, and Clement Greenberg was the only critic who praised it with real fervor. Greenberg wrote in theNation: “Jackson Pollock’s second one-man show at Art of This Century establishes him, in my opinion, as the strongest painter of his generation and perhaps the greatest one to appear since Miró. The only optimism...

  8. Chapter Five
    (pp. 49-60)

    It has been contended with increasing frequency over the years that the term “drip paintings” is inaccurate. According to many scholars and critics, Pollock did not drip paint; he poured it (he also splattered, splashed, and hurled). Hence the preferred term in academic and curatorial circles is “poured paintings.” But it seems a slightly precious designation. As Pepe Karmel, then a curator at the Museum of Modern Art, pointed out in defending his own use of the term “drip paintings,” Pollock himself described his process as “dripping fluid paint.”¹ And as theNew Yorkercritic Peter Schjeldahl wrote in a...

  9. Chapter Six
    (pp. 61-74)

    After the October 1948Lifearticle appeared, Pollock told a friend that the abstract painter Franz Kline had said it “changed my life.” According to this friend, he went on to say, “I bet youLifewill change my death. It won’t be in bed, wait and see.”¹

    The spread inLifeengendered a seismic shift in both the scope of Pollock’s fame and the situation of avant-garde art in America. When de Kooning famously said of Pollock that he “broke the ice,” he was referring not so much to the breakthroughs in Pollock’s art (though he also said Pollock...

  10. Chapter Seven
    (pp. 75-84)

    The events of the summer and autumn of 1950 were to have far-reaching consequences that could not have been imagined at the time. The Namuth films, and the still photographs he took in the studio, not only remain the most powerful and charismatic images of Pollock we have; they are also the single most important factor in shaping and disseminating his legend.

    “You cannot imagine the impact these photographs, as distinct from the paintings, had on artists world-wide when they were first published in the fifties,” Kirk Varnedoe told a television interviewer. “To see a man making art like this...

  11. Chapter Eight
    (pp. 85-97)

    Ironically, despite Pollock’s growing fame and cachet, the financial success of his November 1949 show was not repeated in 1950. Just a few days after the explosive scene with Namuth, the opening of his fourth solo show at the Betty Parsons Gallery was packed with people from a more fashionable set than had ever evinced interest in him before, many of whom were more eager to get a view of the notorious painter than to look at his paintings. (One friend from Long Island likened his position to that of an exotic animal in a zoo.) In the days and...

  12. Chapter Nine
    (pp. 98-103)

    Most of the reviews of Pollock’s retrospective were adulatory, butTime, in its disdainful article on the show, managed to make even the praise he had received from other critics sound fraudulent. Beginning with a description of how “the bush-bearded heavyweight champion of Abstract Expressionism shuffled into the ring at Manhattan’s Sidney Janis Gallery, and flexed his muscles for the crowd,” it went on to mock both his work and the reviewers who had acclaimed him: “When it came down to explaining just what Pollock was up to, the critics retreated into a prose that rivaled his own gaudy drippings.”...

  13. Chapter Ten
    (pp. 104-112)

    Grisly though it sounds, the way Pollock died contributed almost as much to his legend as the Namuth photographs did. Whether he was deliberately trying to kill himself or not, his final car crash only burnished and enhanced his stature as a figure of romance: the doomed artist, pursued by demons, destroyed by William James’s bitch-goddess. Death in a speeding convertible on a country road was the ultimate image of recklessness, the very opposite of the organization man’s timid, cautious mode of being. What was in fact a tragedy took on the coloring of exultation and triumph.

    By the time...

  14. Chapter Eleven
    (pp. 113-122)

    However vibrant a presence Pollock has become in American culture at large, one would expect him to have left his most indelible mark on the painters who came after him. Yet while the Namuth films and photographs directly inspired a generation of performance and body artists, taking art in a whole new direction, tracing Pollock’s influence on painting itself is a much less straightforward matter.

    The one aspect of contemporary painting where his legacy is apparent even in the work of artists whose style bears no resemblance to his own has to do with size. Before Pollock, it was almost...

  15. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 123-124)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 125-130)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 131-136)
  18. Index
    (pp. 137-143)