Sunday, August 23, 2009

Action Jackson

I first learned about Jackson Pollock in Art History 101, courtesy of H. W. Janson's textbook classic, History of Art. Still in the thrall of van Gogh and Matisse, I paid scant attention to the small color reproduction of Pollock's One, Number 31. It was small and messy looking, much like the accidental spin-art pieces I had seen at the Florida State Fair. Even seeing his work projected large in lecture class did little to convince me of greatness.

Several years after graduation, I made my requisite pilgrimage to New York and The Museum of Modern Art. Wandering from gallery to gallery, I recognized, with increasing awe, masterpieces I had first studied in college. Finally, rounding a corner, I found myself confronted by all 9' x 18' of One, Number 31. The effect was immediate and mesmerizing. Stunned by the painting's immensity and power, I could only stand and stare.

And as I stood there taking it all in, something strange happened. The painting began to vibrate. Juxtaposed layers of colors began a dance of kinetic opposition - blobs of blue receded in deference to stringy runs of red, white comets streaked overhead and anchoring everything, webs of glossy black. The vision of that humming mass passed through my eyes and seemed to resonate inside.

I won't soon forget the experience and came away convinced of the error of my former judgement. Jackson Pollock is one of the greatest of 20th Century painters.

No comments: