On Sunday we went over to Liverpool to visit some of the latest exhibitions, including the show of works by Jackson Pollock at the Tate.
The Tate have had one of Pollocks large scale drip paintings, Summertime: Number 9A (1948) on display in the gallery for a while and this had been transferred to the exhibition.
It’s on display in the first room along with some of his other, similar paintings from the same era.
It’s very typical of the works for which Pollock is most well known where he drips paint from a container, swinging over his substrate placed on the floor. Seems easy. “Anyone could do that”. Randomly applying paint to his canvas. But it isn’t so simple. The randomness is subject to constraints. The artist determines the area where the paint drips, the size of the area, the size of the drips, how fast the container swings and where. There’s more than one colour and he decides which colours to use and in which order they are applied. There’s a lot of decisions he makes and although the pant is randomly applied it is done in a controlled way with the artist setting the boundaries. So, in reality, it’s a controlled process and it takes skill to make something that works. Pollock was clear about this
“I control the flow of the paint. There is no accident, just as there is no beginning or end.”
It’s like real life in many ways. That consists of many random events but within the constraints people choose and apply. And that’s how nature works as well. Atoms and molecules move randomly but there is an overriding order which can be influenced by the constraints humans apply.
Many of the paintings on display were from the later part of his career, a few years before he died in 1956, and, unlike his earlier works, they are predominantly black with the paint applied heavily, thrown on using turkey basters and thickly brushed on to the canvas, creating patterns that are less delicate than in his earlier work. They reflect the turmoil of a life addicted to alcohol and feeling self pity.
Yellow Islands 1952 (Source: Tate website)
There were figurative elements in these works too nd some of these reminded me of some of Picasso’s works.
Portrait and a Dream 1953 (Sorce: Tate website)
It was interesting to be able to compare and contrasts these later works with his better known earlier paintings. They are similar, but different. They show that his style evolved and changed, although with the same underlying approach – the control of randomness.
A good show and we’ll be visiting again before it finishes in October.