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Jackson Pollock and His Role in The History of Contemporary Art

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WWII – the time of the omnipresent crisis- political and domestic. A crisis is a necessary period of the evolutionary process and the development of new ideas, both for the whole world and its spheres. In our case, it means art and culture. Art needed new forms, techniques, contents, and points of view. Western European and American cultures have come to a fascination with the work and innovative style of an artist Jackson Pollock from the moment they appeared on the New York art scene in the 1940s. He managed to develop perhaps the most radical abstract style in the history of contemporary art. 

“This is the most interesting work of all that I have seen so far with the Americans,” Piet Mondrian said to Peggy Guggenheim while observing Pollock’s ‘Shorthand Figure’ (1942). There was nothing in it resemblant of the infamous “drip painting”, which Pollock will subsequently develop and make his corporate identity. The painting owes a lot to Picasso, Matisse, and Miro – three European artists whom Pollock valued above all. Piet’s insight was the reason Peggy signed a contract with Pollock, which led to the development of his career. Later on, the themes of his work began to change to the mythical, archaic motifs inspired by the art of the American Indians. He began to experiment with automatism, spontaneously depicting everything that came to mind, applying paint to the canvas in a much more free and expressive manner. In his work ‘No. 5’, 1948, everything is an object and nothing is separate. The manner of the artist offers a completely different approach to reading the work. One should leave all the usual ideas about art, come closer and immerse oneself in the picture. Lines turn into color, and the color becomes a line. A feeling of a certain “nothing” is born an abyss. 

The rise of Jackson Pollock to the art Olympus was accelerated by a photographer Hans Namuth. He, like many others, did not find Pollock’s work too convincing, but his friend, who considered Pollock the American genius, persuaded Hans to meet with the artist. Namuth asked Pollock for permission to photograph him in action at the workshop. Pollock agreed (and not only to the photo but also to the fact that Namuth made a film about him). Black and white photographs for the first time captured the technique of “drip painting” and its instinctive choreography (becoming the forerunner of performance art). 

Pollock has had the greatest influence on Allan Kaprow – a pioneer of conceptualized performance art. Influenced by his action painting, Allan became a supporter of involving the audience in the process of creating the Jackson Pollock working on the painting Autumn Rhythm (Number 30), photo by Hans Namuth (1950) artwork. Pollock’s exhibitions were inspirational for Kaprow to start producing environmental performances – “happenings”. In 1958, in an article “The Legacy of Jackson Pollock” on ArtNews, Kaprow wrote that Pollock’s dense canvases of “enormous sizes” were so comprehensive that ‘they ceased to become paintings and became environments’ and marked the way for new forms of art and action dominating paintings. Kaprow studied the painting technique of abstract expressionism and singled out Jackson Pollock as the only artist in this direction, deeming him a genius, with an ‘unsurpassed freshness.’ When Pollock splashed, dripped, and tossed paint directly onto the canvas under his feet, everyone called it ‘action painting.’ Kaprow argued, stating that Pollock was a performance artist who simply utilized paint. Kaprow observed that Pollock’s “solid” paintings left the viewer in some perplexity – the paintings required more drama and were physically limited by the canvas. Thus, Kaprow proposed to completely remove the canvas and paint and replace them with a palette of tangible images, including sound, movement, smells and touches. In the fall of 1959, Allan Kaprow presented an action – the performance of “18 happenings in 6 parts” (1959)- in the Robin Rice Gallery, in which he embodied many of his ideas. 

The ab-ex master Pollock has inspired many artists, throughout the globe. Anatoly Zverev was the first Russian expressionist, referred to by his colleagues as the “Russian Pollock”; he painted pictures on pieces of plywood, spraying paints and using all the means he had at hand. The process of creating his work was similar to the technique of dripping, directly related to the work of Pollock. However, Zverev was not captivated by pure abstraction; his expressive manner was a way of depicting reality, whether it be a portrait, landscape or illustration. For Soviet artists, this method was innovative, yet many considered it amateurish and a sign of lack of education. For the representatives of Western culture, Zverev’s work was much closer; His art was in demand among Western collectors and major museums (for example, MoMA), and participated in exhibitions of new Russian art; solo exhibitions of Zverev were also held in Paris. 

If a third dimension is added to two-dimensional abstract expressionism, then a simple thought can be quite complicated. ‘Australia’ (1951) by David Smith is a sort of three-dimensional Jackson Pollock; its unpredictable lines pierce the air, like drops of black Pollock paint shoots through the canvas. Abstract expressionism, of course, attracted Smith, who was closely associated with de Kooning and shared Pollock’s passion for Picasso. Like them, Smith was a “painter of action”; his abstract collages of brazed steel and iron were probably the most original sculptures of the era, and “Australia” proved his desire to challenge the figurative tradition associated with the concept of mediation. David Smith once said that “he doesn’t know where the line beyond which the painting ends and the sculpture begins” – a complex idea expressed in his works. 

In the history of art, Pollock is shown as a heroic figure: he works in his manner, unlike anyone else, desperately trying to express his feelings, throwing them with paint on the canvas under his feet. People saw him pour out his soul in painting, and felt his pain. First- timid interest, then unrestrained passion – the world fell in love with Jackson Pollock. Willem de Kooning said at Jackson’s funeral in 1956 that “Pollock broke the ice and opened the way for abstract expressionism.” 

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