Think of a 1950s Modern American Artist, and Jackson Pollock, 1912-56, will be high on the list because of his revolutionary art style and, to a degree, his short and troubled life, from childhood he had a history of alcoholism and later spent periods of psychiatric treatment. Elizabeth Frank is the author of this book, one of the Abbeville Modern Masters series from the mid-1980s.
The book contains 115 illustrations, 52 in colour which, as can be seen from the front cover, a detail from "Convergence No. 10, 1952", 1952, is important for this artist. Following the usual short Introduction, individual chapters address "Beginnings, 1912-30"; "New York, 1930-41"; "Arrival, 1942-46", "Springs, 1947-50"; "The Black Paintings, 1950-53"; "Terminus, 1953-65" and "Aftermath". There are the usual Artist's Statements, Notes on Technique, Chronology, lists of Exhibitions and Public Collections, a Selected Bibliography and an Index.
Frank sees her book as a "general survey of the life and work of Jackson Pollock, the foremost member of the first generation of `Abstract Expressionists'', and then explains all by saying that it is aimed at undergraduate art and art history students. However, she does well to remind the reader that Pollock's work received an initial critical reception from the press, bafflement and scepticism, and there followed the usual battle between his `highbrow' supporters and his `lowbrow' detractors. In retrospect, it is clear which side was successful. Early supportive writings were sometimes little short of hagiographies whilst in the 1970s his work was subjected to Jungian and other interpretations.
One of the strengths of this series is the early work, here for example "Self-Portrait", c. 1930-33 and "Camp with Oil Rig", c. 1930-33, the latter reflecting the influence of American Scene and Regionalist artists at the Art Students League, in particular his teacher, Thomas Hart Benton. "Woman", c. 1930-33, was influenced by the Mexican muralists, especially Orozco's figurative monumentalism and yet another influence was the allegorical Tonalist, Albert Pinkham Ryder, as in "Going West", c. 1934-38 and "The Wagon", c. 1930-33. There are also indications of his later abstraction, "The Flame", "Composition with Figures and Banners", "Overall Composition" and "Panel with Four Designs", all painted between 1934-38.
The influence of Picasso then becomes evident in "Naked Man with Knife" and "Man, Bull, Bird", both 1938-41, whilst "Bird", 1941, indicates the link with Miró. "Composition with Masked Forms", 1941, in which the artist deals with figuration/abstraction interconversion also stands at the cusp of Pollock's `Arrival'. In 1942, Pollock painted only 3 works, "The Moon-Woman", "Male and Female" and "Stenographic Figures", but they were all much bigger than before and integrate Surrealist automatism and Cubist mythical images and iconographies.
The next year, Pollock met Peggy Guggenheimer, just returned from Europe who gave him a year's contract and organized a solo exhibition, in which, Frank says, there was no duplication and reticence, and no limit, "The Moon-Woman Cuts the Circle", "Wounded Animal", "Pasiphae", "Composition with Pouring II", and "Mural", all 1943 or thereabouts. The latter was almost 8ft by 20ft and, despite showing evidence of `dripping' was, more importantly, Pollock's demonstration of sustained `allover' painting.
"Gothic" and "Totem Lesson", both 1944, were painted when the artist was in the spotlight, directed by influential critics such as Clement Greenberg who `[could not] find strong enough words of praise'. In 1945, the artist and Lee Krasner were married and moved to Springs, Long Island. In the Accabonac Creek series, a site near Springs, "There Were Seven in Eight", "Water Bull", "Circumcision", "The Blue Unconscious", "The Tea Cup" and "Eyes in the Heat", all 1946, were steps on the way to the artist solving `the problem of achieving an alloverness (ugh!!) divorced from the potentially `arty' connotations of traditional drawing - contouring, shaping, depicting', in other words, pouring.
"Alchemy", 1947, is one of the earliest drip paintings, doing away with the easel and tacking the canvas onto the floor. In "Full Fathom Five", 1947, items [nails, buttons, keys, and cigarettes] were added, whilst in "Number 1A", 1948, hand- and finger prints can be seen. Pollock found drip painting to be liberating and he limited the field of each painting leaving edges at the top and bottom. Progress in dripping is shown through "The Wooden Horse" and "Number 10A, 1948", both 1948; "Lavender Mist, Number 2, 1949", 1949, and "Number 1, 1950", 1950, and in 1950 he also made a film of his working process. Between 1950-53, Pollock produced a series of black paintings, such as "Number 7, 1951", 1951, with varying levels of success. Images began to emerge but were then disguised, "Number 14, 1951", 1951, with "Portrait and a Dream", 1953, being seen as a self-portrait but analysis of the black paintings continues, and associations with the artist's moods of mourning and guilt at starting drinking again have been made.
The artist's originality continued to the end, "Ocean Greyness" and "The Deep", both 1953, "White Light", 1954, and "Scent", 1953-55. Pollock's work had a great influence on his contemporaries, including Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, Frank Stella and Jasper Johns, and he made it possible for American painting to compete with European modernists and helped moved the centre of modern painting from Paris to New York.
This is another very good introduction to the sometimes rather complex area of modernist painting.