Posts Tagged ‘Jackson Pollack’

We’ve met Fairfield Porter (1907-1975)  before, back in August:


Surprisingly, while he was a hugely successful painter, Porter thought of himself primarily as an art critic.  His criticism was featured in Art Journal, which was started in 1941.  The book,  Art in its Own Terms, is a selection of his critical writings, edited by the itchingly named Rackstraw Downes. I scratched around in these pages and found some insights about Artspeak, then and now.

In the 1940’s New York Abstract Expressionism had hit America’s culture fan with shocking force. It must have felt like a threat to common decency, meaning American decency. In 1959, for example, the popular, middle-brow Life Magazine called Jackson Pollack “Jack the Dripper.” But fairly high-brow readers were also puzzled. These were the cultured-and-curious who would have read Art Journal to find some guiding thread through this new art mess.

Who better for the job than someone who knew art from within, a painter who could convincingly use the word “soul” and still could articulate his way through the maze of these new art-isms.

I imagine that if you could memorize a few of Porter’s sentences and quote them at the next cocktail party (it was the 50’s), you would be assured that you looked as smart as your suede pumps.

Who could challenge a quote like, “Polish artists admire American painting, and Russian art circles take time to express disapproval”?  If you said “Picasso derives from Toulouse-Lautrec,” would the hostess whip out a screen and a Kodak Carousel complete with relevant slides so that you could demonstrate exactly what you were talking about?  She would not. She would pour you more champagne, darling, aren’t you clever.

Was Porter ever asked to give a slide show at the 92nd Street Y to illuminate his generalities?  Today he would be asked. Today he would be expected to present split screen comparisons and be specific about what he was comparing to what.  By the time of the Q&A people would have fact-checked his historical claims and editorial generalities.

Here’s a split screen for the claim that Picasso derives from Toulouse-Lautrec.  He would have some splainin’ to do, wouldn’t he.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1864-1901

Pablo Picasso, 1881-1973

Fairfield Porter, 1907-1975

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.





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Oh, Wyeth, I thought, I don’t like Wyeth. I had just walked in at the 7th Street entrance, said hello to some Dutch masters, Helen Frankenthaler, De Kooning and Jackson Pollack. And then there was a sign pointing to Andrew Wyeth watercolors. I was familiar with his paintings, admired them for their composition and austerity, but, really, Mr. Wyeth, all these individual brush strokes for dried grass. Hill and hills of brush strokes for dried brownish grass. Oh, well, I shrugged to myself, I’ll just go in and have a quick walk through.
My jaw dropped at the sight of the first piece, a pencil sketch he did for Wind from the Sea (1947). Then he worked out a watercolor of the same motif, the curtain blowing in the window. Oh, my!


His watercolors are wild! The brush stokes—big brush!—are furious, ruthless, raggedy, dripping, bleeding, dragged dry. The watercolors are large, about 20 x 24, and each looks as if had been done in a frenzy of concentration, in maybe 15 minutes. Here’s the quote I took down from one of the walls:
“I break loose…and there are scratches and spit and mud…that’s what gives them some quality.”
Some quality, indeed. And yes, he ripped into the heavy paper with a knife or razor blade, he stressed the paper to the point of wrinkling, and the mud was passionate mud. He probably did spit and sweat.
Then why are his paintings so, well, fussy. Individual blades of grass, individual threads on torn curtains. Maybe, after breaking loose in a watercolor or two, he got out his tempera and oils to calm himself down.
I have no idea how long I was in that gallery. I lost track of time.

Drawings and watercolors often don’t reproduce well in art books. The immediacy, the “spit and mud,” is lost in reproductions and prints.
What a revelation this exhibit was! It closed two days later. I will hop on a plane the next time someone puts up a Wyeth watercolor exhibit.
(Photography was not allowed, of course. I’m pulling images from the web here. Again, these only hint at the passion of Andrew Wyeth. I could not find the pencil drawing or the watercolor he did for Wind from the Sea and, in any case, no reproduction would do. Shown above is the tempera painting.)
All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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