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)
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
The same picture done two ways: before and after, hero and monster.
COWBOY JACK and PAINTING FROM HORSEBACK
The American contribution to the world of art: a pretend cowboy from the tame west.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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, 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.