(detail) Jackson Pollock, Lucifer, 1947, 267 x 104 cm (Stanford University Museum and Art Gallery, Stanford, CA)
After several decades of looking at works by Jackson Pollock, Alan Gouk finds Pollock's paintings to be "an extreme point of style. His art with all its multifarious associations is inseparable from the drip technique and his labile drawing style, volatile, looping, drooping, a cursiveness released from the definition of specific 'form,' and yet still creating a remarkably complex spatial experience, and no one has been able to take off from that."
Gouk offers Sir Joshua Reynolds' Selina, Lady Skipwith (1787) in the Frick as a more useful example of spontaneous gesture. This painting, he writes, "contains a beautiful demonstration of genuine spontaneity in action... [a] scribbled the indication of the rucked sleeve covering her left forearm emerging from this shade, a blurred irresolution which in fact sets the whole picture alight with movement... something made him stop at this point, a vision of the whole which required this fluttering destabilizing passage, and without which the picture would have been more static and conventional." causes Gouk to conclude that "all this ironising self-flagellation about 'spontaneous' 'gestural' painting is misplaced. It all depends what these gestures contribute, what they are for, how they function in the overall conception. Ultimately, either a pictorial gesture is spontaneous or it isn’t – and only an intuitive grasp of formal intent, and an empathetic absorption of the whole image can decide."
Robert Goodnough's classic 1951 narration of Jackson Pollock's studio process.
In addition to documenting Pollock's now familiar drip technique, Goodnough also reveals the lesser known aspects of Pollock's method. Goodnough writes: "The final work on the painting was slow and deliberate. The design had become exceedingly complex and had to be brought to a state of complete organization. When finished and free from himself the painting would record a released experience. A few movements in white paint constituted the final act and the picture was hung on the wall; then the artist decided there was nothing more he could do with it. Pollock felt that the work had become 'concrete'—he says that he works 'from the abstract to the concrete,' rather than vice versa: the painting does not depend on reference to any object or tactile surface, but exists 'on its own.' "
Robert Linsley considers the both literary and spatial issues in the paintings of Jackson Pollock.
Linsley begins: "Today, the stature and importance of Jackson Pollock’s work is taken for granted, however, critical interpretations of his work have not changed much since the sixties. The formalist line of Clement Greenberg is pretty much entrenched in academia, and its basic outlines are well known. The expressionist line, from Harold Rosenberg through Alan Kaprow, has perhaps had more influence on practicing artists, although it is generally out of favour among critics and art historians. In addition to these two main traditions there is a Jungian faction, also venerable, and the recent 'hidden figuration' theories of Pepe Karmel, presented in the catalogue of the last retrospective, but these latter have the drawback that they treat Pollock’s work as if it were analysable in the same way as any historical figure painting. If his work is as important for abstraction as many of us would like to think it is, surely it must demand something more innovative from criticism. I would like to make two modest contributions to the discourse. Firstly, to suggest that Pollock’s work is both abstract and completely literary. It is this way because the gesture of reduction that Pollock makes itself has very old literary antecedents. Secondly, I would like to propose what I think is a fresh, if not in fact entirely new, way of looking at the lines, forms and spaces of the classic drip paintings."
Frank Hobbs finds contemporary relevance in the 18th century Discourses of painter Sir Joshua Reynolds.
Hobbs writes that Reynolds' discourses "are rich indeed, and still speak to the concerns of students of painting today, if you have the patience to parse the meat from the embroidery of 18th century rhetoric... My favorite of the Discourses is number XI, in which Reynolds addresses himself to the problem of 'finish' and the relationship of parts to the whole."
Gouk speaks directly in front of his paintings, describing his process. Discussing color he notes that "Matisse said a 'square meter of green is greener than a square centimeter of green' ... color needs surface area to in order to function in painting and what is does is it wants to spread... color needs a fairly large surface area in order to function at all and to generate chords between colors..."
Edited by artist Brett Baker, Painters' Table highlights writing from the painting blogosphere as it is published and serves as a platform for exploring blogs that focus primarily on the subject of painting.