Continued from Action Jackson Part 1
So how did a guy born in Cody, Wyoming who grew up mostly in Arizona and California and studied under Thomas Hart Benton (of all people!) end up as a leading New York figure in Abstract Expressionism, the first major made-in-America artistic movement? Well, that is one of the Mysteries of Art. Perhaps it required a sensitive, moody, depressed, violent, tormented, socially inept alcoholic—someone connected by the thinnest of threads to all that stuff so important to the rest of us—to throw off the last vestiges of representation and rip the painting from the easel (actually, right off the wall altogether) for its completely non-referential expression, to be fully about itself. (At least in its final state. Pollock himself acknowledged that he began a painting with representational imagery, albeit skeletal, which eventually became obscured in the process.)
Also, timing is everything. History is full of sensitive moody depressed people who never launched an art movement, or anything else, and if one of them had started flinging paint around he would have been institutionalized rather than invited to give a one-man exhibit at the Guggenheim.
A Pollock in reproduction is a mere footnote to the actual work. Personal experience of its scale and physicality are critical to appreciation and understanding of its active surface and sense of immense depth. If full understanding is actually possible. Standing before it is an odd experience, at once overwhelming, intimate, and liberating. The powerful presence of the paint, presumably devoid of pictorial illusion, nevertheless sucks the viewer in, at once baldly honest (it’s only paint) and limitlessly suggestive (of raw energy, recklessness, fury, joy, the starry firmament, the birth of the universe!). Its material immediacy combined with its non-objectivity transforms the viewer into a participant who simultaneously sees and re-creates the painting. It’s interactive art.
Pollock was at his most stable and exalted (I can’t say “happiest”) while painting. Between phases of work he was tormented, despairing, self-destructive to the point that his sad end in an automobile accident may actually have been an act of suicide. But his work, which a therapist had once suggested might help relieve his pain, had probably extended his life.
Reflect on the geniuses you know. Aren’t they famously troubled, eccentric, even downright unpleasant? Ah, and yet we forgive them, because they have opened a door to a new way of perceiving, when we hadn’t even realized there was a wall blocking our view.