In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Jackson Pollock’s death, the Guggenheim has put together a choice selection of his works on paper. This small show deserves a lot of attention; rather than traditional drawings, Pollock’s working method produced what can only be classified as paintings on paper.
Pollock’s works on paper—and likewise his works on canvas—are generally divided into three periods. His early work, 1935-1941, was created during a time when the artist, in the sway of European Surrealism, experimented with materials. This period is also sometimes referred to as the psychoanalytic period. Pollock underwent extensive Jungian psychoanalysis in an effort to arrest his chronic alcoholism.
Under the suggestion of his analyst Pollock tried to access his subconscious in drawings. Though he was effectively able to limn the chaos of a troubled mind, he was also able to break into new visual territory beyond the phantoms of the deliberately “far-out” surrealistic conventions. This new territory was a result of the speed with which the works were made and a liberated use of materials. A kind of abbreviation or calligraphy soon displaced depiction.
A second period, 1942 to 1947, focused more on the brevity of imagery, and methods of execution. During this time the drip or pour method of painting developed and what we know as Pollock’s style became more fully developed. The mature work of the 1947 to 1950 period fully explored the abstract or ”all over” abstraction that came to represent the era as “modern American art.”
There are wonderful paintings from all three periods. Pollock never made preparatory drawings for paintings, but elements or techniques in the works on paper certainly appear in larger works on canvas, and the reverse is also true.
The dance of dripped paint, like drawing in air, was fully realized. A group of enamels on paper done in1948 is especially satisfying; that was a good year for Pollock. There are also some full color drip-on-paper mounted on canvas pieces that are great too.
From the early middle period there are some totemic works. These are stacked, rather symmetrical, piles of marks and symbolic configurations that seem to be borrowed from Native American iconography or other devotional art. Ideas in these pieces could have nourished a whole other career for Pollock. The influences of jazz, post-existential thinking, and a faith in the psychoanalytical process are evident in all the works.
The constrictions of Clement Greenberg’s thoughts—Greenberg being the most influential critic/thinker of the time and Pollock’s most powerful supporter—are evident in the works from around 1950. Apparently Pollock didn’t make any works on paper from 1950 to 1956 when he died, drunk, in an automobile accident. This show inspires many thoughts about Pollock, the notion of genius, and the American version of success. It’s a wonderful show to look at and offers a spirited counterpoint to the other offerings at the Guggenheim.