A Structure of Plastic Life

Jackson Pollock Echo: Number 25 1951

In early 1951, Pollock returned to work by going back to the basics, retrenching to make a group of medium-size ink drawings. Some of these works are nonreferential, while others contain figurative elements reminiscent of his earlier work. Letters appear in some places, as a kind of cryptoscript. By restricting his palette to one or two colors and working at a smaller, more intimate scale, Pollock explored new directions in an elemental, relatively low-stakes, and even private way…. it has been the imagery of these drawings, and the subsequent paintings they engendered, that has seemed most important, but given the artist’s intense engagement with devising new means of image making throughout his career, the technical novelties of these works mustn’t be overlooked….
Copying, doubles, and seriality course through the artist’s 1951 production, complicating traditional readings that prioritize the uniqueness and supposedly personal, unconscious expression of the artist’s “return to figuration.” Pushing the reproductive logic that underpins the works on paper, the paintings, with their compartmentalized images regularly placed in strips, look as if they had come off a conveyor belt: iterations from the Pollock painting machine. [Jordan Kantor on Jackson Pollock’s later work]

Vasily Kandinsky Study for Painting with White Form 1913

“That December in Munich, Kandinsky exhibited Komposition V, a monumental manifesto for abstraction that maintained only the most inscrutable traces of figural references.That same month, he published On the Spiritual in Art, his loquacious paean to the ineffable. Three Kandinsky works—none quite so ambitious or so determined in their evacuation of referential content as Komposition V— were shown a few months later in Paris, at the Salon des Indépendants, in March – May of 1912. Delaunay, who had been corresponding with Kandinsky since late 1911, and had studied French translations of On the Spiritual of Art made by Sonia Delaunay -Terk and Elisabeth Epstein, understood these works to herald the birth of abstraction. “This inquiry into pure painting is the current problem,” wrote Delaunay to Kandinsky. “I do not know any painters in Paris who are truly seeking this ideal world.” Soon afterward the French artist made his own near-abstract works, his Fenêtres (Windows) series (plates 31–33), and showed them in July 1912 in the Ausstellung des Modernen Bundes, in the Kunsthaus Zurich, at the invitation of Bund co-founder Arp (who had in turn obtained his address from Kandinsky). These works similarly announced a new form of picture -making to key viewers in German-speaking realms. The Swiss artist Klee, who saw the Zurich show, proclaimed in a review that Delaunay “has created the type of autonomous picture, which leads, without motifs from nature, to a completely abstract life form. A structure of plastic life, nota bene, almost as far removed as a Bach fugue is from a carpet.” [Leah Dickerson Inventing Abstraction]

Giles Lyon Tripping Balls on Anthropocene 2013 @gileslyon

Lyon lets us know that the days of “profound” abstraction full of tragic import (à la Rothko) are over, and that what has replaced it is wit. When built-up drips of paint protrude from the surface of the canvas like “stalagmites,” as the artist politely calls them, we know that the painterly eruption from the unconscious depths has become self-consciously comic, though not in an insidious way. Accident has become calculating, a button activating familiar associations rather than a springboard for unpredictable allusions…. there seems to be a kind of buried mandala within the painterly turbulence, the outlines of which are clear from a modest distance, indicating that perhaps the artist does share a certain “mystical” sensibility with the Abstract Expressionists.”
“Burying a figure in a protoplasmic ground is an old Rorschach strategy—perhaps Lyon is interested in depth after all. But we don’t find any personal unconscious there, but rather pop-culture afterimages— the flotsam and jetsam of a collective media identity…. Lyon’s abstractions turn out to be maps of the impersonal mass-cultural mind, presented as a peculiarly archaic terrain filled with magical relics to cling to in compensation for a lack of individuality. Lyon is an archaeologist of the collective American mentality, which he shows to be full of mad illustrations gone abstract—which can only suggest just how mad it is. [Donald Kuspit on Giles Lyon]

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