Progenitor III

Jackson Pollock Echo- Number 25 1951

A more critical aspect of Pollock’s formal conflict is the conflict between line and image, in which line always seems to fight to break free of delineation. It is, more fundamentally, an issue between form and content. On the one hand is Pollock’s ambition for a total visual effect, and on the other his need for symbolic figuration. It is essential to grasp the point that Pollock’s was an ambition for a total visual effect that went beyond anything previously achieved. It amounted to an ambition to affect the spectator by means of painting alone, by “sensation” alone.
Donald Judd distinguishes between sensation and emotion in the art of the fifties: “expression of emotion occurs through a sequence of observing, feeling, and recording. It’s one of the main aspects of European or Western art,” noting that the main vehicle for expression of emotion, the expressive brushstroke, “portrays immediate emotions.” It doesn’t involve immediate sensations. He goes on to say “Pollock’s paintings don’t involve the immediate emotions of traditional art and don’t involve the way these are generalized,” that is, portrayed or rendered. Pollock’s paintings are about immediate sensations; the development of Pollock’s art is one of tension between emotion and sensation. The work of the forties shows a developing movement away from emotion to sensation. The work of the fifties involves a tension between emotion and sensation resolved in favor of sensation, and later a movement back toward emotion again. [Berenice Rose on Jackson Pollock]

Jackson Pollock Untitled 1950

Pollock’s tendency seems to have been to work in series, almost compulsively (and sometimes simultaneously) until the initial impetus had exhausted itself. Then either an accidental or a logical development within the work itself or a specific material stimulus would set off a new series of works. This pattern of using technique as catalyst and probing the limits of mediums persisted and grew more complex with time. When asked in 1944 if he considered technique important Pollock answered:
“Yes and no. Craftsmanship is essential to the artist. He needs it just as he needs brushes, pigments, and a surface to paint on.” Beyond the idea of technique as such, the material means for making a work of art was always a stimulus to a new invention or new group of works for Pollock. The drip line that is a function of the quality— the liquidity and viscosity— of the enamel paint itself was an initial stimulus that gathered momentum as Pollock allowed the medium to take over and then devel oped control over it, culminating in the so-called high period works of 1947-53. Following his early tendency to sum up a group of small sketches in one “finished” drawing, Pollock later worked in series stimulated by a particular material, whether paint, paper of a particular quality, or the interaction of linear and spattered elements. [Berenice Rose on Jackson Pollock]

Jackson Pollock Untitled 1951

However, the invention of the drip technique had raised a fundamental issue for the concept of touch in drawing— and even for the idea of “touch” within painting. And it is one that seems to have occurred to Pollock himself, if we accept the handprints of Number 1, 1948 as evidence of a concern for touch. Drawings had always been prized for touch— that unique mark by which the artist’s presence was recognized and that was, classically, more intimate than any painting mark could be (although Cezanne had changed that too). Pouring totally transformed the notion of touch for both drawing and painting (indeed, it initiated a crisis for work that followed). In one sense it suspended the notion of touch in that the poured work was at one remove from the artist’s hand. And yet this made the artist’s control far more critical, for in Pollock’s unique method only total physical involvement could control the mark. Since Pollock was, in one sense, the subject of his work, the transformation of both role and process guaranteed his touch. But even more was at issue.  [Berenice Rose on Jackson Pollock]

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