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This paper will be comparing and contrasting Jackson Pollock’s Full Fathom Five created in 1947 and Jasper Johns’ Flag created 1954-55 (dated 1954 on the reverse). Full Fathom Five is a prime example from the Abstract Expressionist period and Flag is a work that embodies Neo-Dada. Both artworks were created in the United States. To compare and contrast the two works, this paper will discuss the materials, methods, characteristics reflecting each movement, and the historical and/or societal happenings that influenced the works.
Full Fathom Five is made with oil on canvas with nails, tacks, buttons, a key, coins, cigarettes, matches, and more. Most of the small objects were covered by the globs of thick oil paint while others, like several nails, a button, and a cigarette, were visible by silhouette where the paint was thinner, or the objects placed later in the process. These objects do not seem to add any meaning to the piece. They may have been littered around the studio and Pollock just felt the need to add them to his work. Flag used encaustic along with oil, collage on fabric mounted on three panels of plywood. The 48 stars on the blue background made up one panel, the stripes to its right, another, and the long stripes underneath the two, the third. Johns seemed to have created in this manner by letting the shapes and size of the flag dictate it. In conclusion, when it came to materials, the artists shared the qualities of using oil paints and incorporating non-paint items into their works. Pollock used mainly paint on a canvas while Johns used encaustic, oils, and collage on plywood.
Pollock is most famous for his drip paintings. Full Fathom Five was one of the first paintings where he utilized this method. The base of the piece is strewn with directionless applications of paint. There is no normality or balance in the way he put the paints to canvas. The random objects looked to have been thrown on as there are none in some places and a clump in others throughout the painting process. They added to the bulky texture. On top of the thick applications of paints, he drizzled thin black and silver enamels all over the piece. There are no patterns or designs, just drizzles of paint in every direction and all around. Overall, this gave the piece, what my 2D Fine Arts class professor would call, “vibrations”. On the other hand, when you look up close to Flag there is a collage of torn newspapers visible underneath the waxy layers of paint. You can almost read the texts and see comic strips throughout. After a close inspection, I deemed these had no meaning. The brushstrokes are visible and held its shape apart from the drips of the wax and paint mixture. The stars looked to have been individually cut and pasted. The three panels look seamless with the texture of the paper and paint creating a tactile surface. While the brushstrokes did invoke Abstract Expressionism, the manner in which he painted was not emotional but purposeful. After all, Johns’ work is a recognizable symbol of the American Flag while Pollock’s piece is a very interesting painting with no image filled with expressive strokes and drips. Apart from the drips, which was more gravity doing the work, and the expressive brushwork, the two pieces were created in totally different methods.
Another key difference to Jackson Pollack and Jasper Johns works is the periods in which they were created. Full Fathom Five is an Ab-Ex or Abstract Expressionist painting. Ab-Ex can be interpreted as the expression of introspection on a canvas. Pollock borrows the surrealistic manner of painting as evident by the messy strokes, but he paints without its ideals. Surrealism has to do with the unconscious mind. Instead, he allowed the moments and the emotions of those moments to control the outcome of his works. Contrarily, Johns is associated with Neo-Dada. As mentioned before, his approach to painting was much like Ab-Ex but the end results were different. Like Dada, he used popular images or rather symbols which in the case of Flag is the American Flag. And unlike Dada, which was artwork created to change the perception of the viewers while also challenging traditional art, Johns created the work to be up for interpretation of the viewer. Most Americans would see this and be proud of their nation and others sad because they may have lost family who fought for the flag or were murdered in its name. Non-Americans may see it as a garish symbol with bright red stripes and a blue panel covered with stars.
After WWII, the philosophies behind the movements preceding Pollock and other Ab-Ex artists were rejected as it no longer held meaning. The world was full of traumatic news and images from the war. Creating art was like escapism for Pollock. An escape to his inner self. In fact, both artists were in a world full of trauma. The difference was the increasing popularity of media during Johns period. He and other artists were active during the Beat Generation which was a generation of artist that rejected movements such as Ab-Ex while being influenced by them, nonetheless.
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