The Drip Show

16″ x 20″, acrylic on canvas

16″ x 20″, acrylic on can­vas

For some rea­son the ques­tion occurred to me: “Could real­ist paint­ings be cre­at­ed with dripped paint?” When I asked myself this, I wasn’t aware of it hav­ing been done by oth­ers before me. It was my own pri­vate quest.

I have a lot of house paint left over from my colour field work. I sup­ple­ment­ed it with quarts of pri­ma­ry colours and gal­lons of black and white. Using stir sticks, I start­ed prac­tic­ing. Some­times paint runs down the stick in a love­ly con­tin­u­ous rib­bon. More often it sends a blob and stops. Or a drip hangs on and you wait and wait and wait or a gush of paint flies off the stick just where you don’t want it.

One must embrace the acci­den­tal and let the drips fall where they may.

For sub­ject mat­ter it seemed only fit­ting to take on the King of Drips: Jack the Drip­per Pol­lock. And so begins the next chap­ter in my explo­ration of the his­to­ry of twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry paint­ing.

Fin (The-End)

30″ x 24″, acrylic on can­vas

FIN (THE END)

I con­tact­ed the East Hamp­ton Police Depart­ment and they kind­ly send me the police report on the acci­dent. I have tried to rep­re­sent the final moments.


Captain America and Ben Grimm

Left: Cap­tain Amer­i­ca, 48 x 48, acrylic on Globe and Mail attached to ply­wood); Right: Ben Grimm, 48″ x 48″, acrylic on ply­wood

CAPTAIN AMERICA and BEN GRIMM

The same pic­ture done two ways: before and after, hero and mon­ster.


Cowboy Jack and Painting From Horseback

Left: Cow­boy Jack 24“x30” Right: Paint­ing from Horse­back 24“x36”

COWBOY JACK and PAINTING FROM HORSEBACK

The Amer­i­can con­tri­bu­tion to the world of art: a pre­tend cow­boy from the tame west.


Ruthie

22″ x 30″, acrylic on ply­wood

RUTHIE

The amaz­ing Ms Klig­man, art groupie. With her Eliz­a­beth Tay­lor-esque attrib­ut­es, she set her cap for the top dog in New York paint­ing. She gained leg­endary sta­tus as Pollock’s mis­tress, the only sur­vivor of the car crash that killed Jack­son (and her friend Edith Met­zger). Lat­er she became mis­tress to de Koon­ing, at least for a while. She tried Franz Kline, but he didn’t seem inter­est­ed, or was that Bar­nett New­man, or Jasper Johns, maybe? The girl had a mis­sion.

In 2012, Van­i­ty Fair pub­lished a piece about her claim that she owned the last paint­ing Jack­son Pol­lock made. Pro­duc­ing a can­vas board for the writer, she claimed, “Jack­son showed me how to paint.” Pollock’s wife, Lee Kras­ner, called her “5 fucks” and blocked any attempt she made to have her Pol­lock paint­ing authen­ti­cat­ed. (See also the doc­u­men­tary film, Who the Fuck is Jack­son Pol­lock, for anoth­er pos­si­ble post-Pol­lock Pol­lock.)


Backseat Lee

24″ x 24″, acrylic on can­vas

BACKSEAT LEE

Here Lee Kras­ner is, lit­er­al­ly, in the back­seat. But she was back there dri­ving. Lee had all the New York art con­nec­tions. She’d been a stu­dent of Hans Hof­mann. She was a born sales­woman. She was Pollock’s Colonel Park­er. She gave him the thumbs-up that legit­imized his paint-fling­ing. She kept his crazy sort of under con­trol, moved him out of town so he could stop drink­ing, worked tire­less­ly on pro­mot­ing him while rid­ing in that back­seat.

Jack­son and Lee, art pow­er cou­ple up there with Fri­da and Diego. Jack­son returned her love in spades, remark­ing to a cura­tor in Lee’s pres­ence, “Imag­ine being mar­ried to a face like that.”

When he took up with Ruthie, he did no paint­ing.


Peggy

24″ x 30″, acrylic on can­vas

PEGGY

Guggen­heim, of course, wear­ing her Calder ear­rings. At first I left them off but then I real­ized she had to have them. Peg­gy gave Pol­lock a gallery to show in, a wall in her apart­ment to paint on, and a fire­place to piss in.


48″ x 60″, acrylic on canvas

48″ x 60″, acrylic on can­vas

WOMAN 1–1/2

Here’s a riff on de Kooning’s “Woman 1” as if Pol­lock had paint­ed it. Orig­i­nal­ly I thought I was work­ing on a show called JACK AND BILL, about the two of them, but I found I had nowhere to take de Koon­ing. I know many have copied his grand stroke abstract phase but, for me, that door was closed.

Woman 1–1/2” is as far as I could see going.


Flipping Out

64″ x 64″, acrylic on can­vas

FLIPPING OUT

One of the Van-Gogh-Cuts-Off-His-Own-Ear moments in Pollock’s career. He has been film­ing with Hans Namuth out­side in the cold, drip­ping paint on a sheet of glass for hours. It is Thanks­giv­ing. He comes in for din­ner, finds a bot­tle of whisky and starts knock­ing it back, mum­bling to him­self, “You’re a pho­ny, I’m not a pho­ny.” Sud­den­ly he upends the din­ner table. They might have been eat­ing turkey, but I felt it was more appro­pri­ate that it was ham.


Saint Lee

Dip­tych, each pan­el 24 x 48, oil and acrylic on pan­el and paper

SAINT LEE, THE LONG SUFFERING

I read some­where that Lee Kras­ner was one of the great­est art deal­ers of the last half of the 20th cen­tu­ry. She cer­tain­ly lob­bied Jack­son into the pan­theon. But he pro­vid­ed the nar­ra­tive. Noth­ing like notably nasty behav­iour in life and an untime­ly death to make a leg­end.

The Rim­baud quote I’ve illus­trat­ed to hang with Saint Lee was inscribed on her stu­dio wall, a ges­ture that seems bizarrely pre­scient.


Tom and Jack Discuss Painting

30″ x 40″, stuc­co on can­vas

TOM AND JACK DISCUSS PAINTING

Jack­son had been a “sixth-rate” stu­dent of the region­al­ist painter and mural­ist Thomas Hart Ben­ton, who togeth­er with his wife, Rita, became sur­ro­gate par­ents to young Pol­lock. Jack’s ear­ly paint­ings are incom­pe­tent ver­sions of Hart Ben­ton. That Jack’s dripped paint tech­nique made Hart Ben­ton redun­dant must have seri­ous­ly irked the old­er man.


18″ x 48″, stucco on can­vas on board

18″ x 48″, stuc­co on can­vas on board

JOHN GRAHAM

He was a Russ­ian with aris­to­crat­ic flare whose real name was Ivan Gra­tianovitch Dom­browsky. He lec­tured Pol­lock on art. He was a for­mi­da­ble pres­ence and his inclu­sion of Pol­lock in a show of abstrac­tion­ists led Kras­ner to Pol­lock and the rest is his­to­ry.

This isn’t a drip paint­ing. It’s made with coloured stuc­co. Stone-filled paint has about as much of a mind of its own as drips do.


30″ x 60″, acrylic on canvas

30″ x 60″, acrylic on can­vas

DANCING PICASSO

Always in the back of the minds of the painters of the fifties was the over­sized vision, the enor­mous shad­ow cast by the Spaniard. He is Zeus. He dances to spite us puny mor­tals.


Cars

Clock­wise from top-left: 1952 Cad­dy, Three-quar­ter Front, 40 x 24, acrylic on can­vas; 1956 Olds, Front, 40 x 30, acrylic on can­vas; 1956 Olds, Back, 40 x 30, acrylic on can­vas; 1952 Cad­dy, Front, 30 x 24, acrylic on can­vas; 1952 Cad­dy, Rear, 40 x 24, acrylic on can­vas; 1950 Green Olds, 40 x 24, acrylic on can­vas

THE CARS

I set out to paint the “death car” but I hadn’t done enough research: I was too impa­tient, maybe too drawn to the ear­li­er vin­tage Cadil­lac. Assum­ing Jack­son had some mon­ey, I guessed he’d have had a new car, so I first paint­ed a ’56 Olds in yel­low, like the one in Ed Harris’s Pol­lock movie. Then I dis­cov­ered that the real car was a green 1950s Oldsmo­bile that a lady art deal­er had trad­ed him for two of his late “black draw­ing” can­vas­es. He had owned a 1952 Cadil­lac but he’d cracked it up dri­ving drunk.


Harold Rosenberg

30″ x 20″, acrylic on can­vas

HAROLD ROSENBERG

He was anoth­er crit­ic on the Abstract Expres­sion­ism band­wag­on, the one who coined the term “action paint­ing.” I fig­ure I’m doing the oppo­site: “inac­tion paint­ing.” Wait­ing for paint to drip, wait­ing for drips to dry. One of the art crowd of the day described Rosen­berg as a ter­ri­bly bor­ing man with a high voice, or maybe I made that up.


Clem Smokes a Joint

30″ x 24″, acrylic on can­vas

CLEM SMOKES A JOINT

He prob­a­bly isn’t, real­ly, as they were all booz­ers. But some­how the whole his­to­ry of Clement Green­berg and mod­ern art would make more sense if he was.


Clem

30″ x 30″, acrylic on can­vas

CLEM

The self-pro­claimed crit­ic king of abstract expres­sion­ism, Pollock’s main man (after Lee). He gave the scrib­bles mean­ing if you could under­stand what Clem meant. Green­berg desert­ed Pol­lock for de Koon­ing when Bill’s star was ris­ing.


24″ x 36″, acrylic on canvas

24″ x 36″, acrylic on can­vas

BILL

This was my first drip paint­ing. It took quite a bit of prac­tice and I nev­er felt like I mas­tered it because the house paint varies wild­ly in vis­cos­i­ty with age and tem­per­a­ture and type of base. Stick size changes the flow, but not always as one would expect. Pol­lock used enam­el and lac­quer: his barn must have been lethal with fumes. I’m using rel­a­tive­ly low VOC paints, and my stu­dio and barn were bad enough.

I chose de Koon­ing as the first sub­ject because he is pos­si­bly the last per­son on earth Pol­lock would have paint­ed if he was into paint­ing por­traits. Pol­lock was num­ber one and de Koon­ing was num­ber two in the world of abstract expres­sion­ism. When Pol­lock died, a grief-strick­en de Koon­ing said “Now I’m num­ber one.”


Cedar Bar

30″ x 36″, acrylic on can­vas

CEDAR BAR

The Cedar Bar was the leg­endary hang­out for the Abstract Expres­sion­ist crowd. And a lot of the oth­er hip­sters of the peri­od. Here Pol­lock, ever the gen­tle­man, gives a lady the fin­ger while Franz Kline stares off into space and de Koon­ing med­i­tates. This paint­ing was a lot of work.


24″ x 36″, acrylic on canvas

24″ x 36″, acrylic on can­vas

ACTION PAINTING

The received wis­dom is that Jack­son Pol­lock is an Amer­i­can mas­ter, that his drip paint­ing broke the world wide open. I find his paint­ings far too man­ic. And what am I look­ing at? His sub­con­scious? The man could hard­ly draw, his ear­ly paint­ings are mud­dy. He soon exhaust­ed his “drip” break­through because how long can you scrib­ble before you are scrib­bled out. He tried mix­ing such things as sand, glass, and cig­a­rette butts into the paint­ings’ sur­faces, and also tried big sten­ciled shapes to vary the result. Then he went back to try­ing to draw in black paint on can­vas. His final piece, as one cru­el wag not­ed, was to splat him­self on the road­side.

But he cer­tain­ly was in the right place at the right time, mak­ing the rebel stand, being as obnox­ious as pos­si­ble. He was the Stan­ley Kowal­s­ki of paint. Mr. Fist­fight, Mr. Sweep-the-Glass­es-Off-the-Table, Mr. Pull-the-Door-Off-the-Toi­let-Stall, Mr. Piss-in-the-Fire­place-While-Shit­faced.

A semi-lit­er­ate, drunk­en stum­ble­bum who opened the door to a whole world of exper­i­men­ta­tion.

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