I needed two visits to the recently closed exhibition, “Pollock Matters,” at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, New York, to finally reconcile my feelings toward one of the 20th century’s most original artists.
The exhibition looked at the friendship and artistic bond between Jackson Pollock and photographer and graphic designer Herbert Matter. And while Matter’s innovative work is definitely worthy of interest, my eyes remained focused on the selection of Pollock’s drip paintings.
In some of the corresponding text for the exhibit, Pollock was quoted as saying his primary painting goal was “energy made visible.” In that, he no doubt succeeded. His drip paintings display a frenetic energy, as if the paint was not merely splattered on the canvas but unleashed. Yet somehow, they seem to leave the viewer unsatisfied.
I explored the issue in myself to determine why. Although all art is subjective, for me Pollock’s drip paintings reflect style over substance. They are drops of blood on a ceramic tile floor, streaks of rain on your car windshield and variations of fireworks. And while we stand back and admire the serpentine patterns, the impression is transitory. The images are intense, but they not endure. In fact, only color seems to differentiate one painting from another.
And unlike Michelangelo’s “Pieta,” Van Gogh’s “The Potato Eaters” and Hopper’s “Automat,” Pollock’s drip paintings elicit no twinge of emotion or sense of wonder in the viewer. The explosive canvases capture your attention but fail to hold your gaze. In the end, you walk away feeling nothing.
Perhaps it’s unfair to compare Pollock to artists who thrived in the realm of realism, and I certainly do not mean to diminish Pollock’s efforts. Anyone who appreciates art must respect his creativity and unwillingness to alter his own vision. But I feel his overblown cult status distorts his impact and output – what the viewer actually sees on the gallery walls.
However, I believe I have figured out a way to enjoy Pollock’s work without still hungering for more. I think we must come at a Pollock painting with no preconceived notions or unrealistic expectations. Instead of hunting for meaning, the viewer should simply explore all angles of the canvas, set the subconscious free and get lost in the mesmerizing swirls of color.
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