One of the stand out exhibitions of 2015 was for me Jackson Pollock: Blind Spots at Tate Liverpool from 30th June – 18th October. Instead of offering another re-imagining of Pollock’s famed ‘drip technique’, the exhibition, as the title suggests, offered a valuable new insight into a period we are not so familiar with. Widely disregarded in art historical circles due to the alcohol induced haze that accompanied the final years of his life, this period may not have been quite so creatively baron as first thought.
After the fame that followed the publication of the Life magazine article, Pollock found himself in the midst of a deep creative battle. Desperate to re-invent and re-invigorate his artistic practice, he cast off the drip paintings that had bought him such fame and recognition, along with the confines of public expectation. He exchanged the drips for an evolved smoother, fluid, pouring-technique, and exchanged the bright colourful palettes of his drip canvasses for a darker monochromatic colour scheme. The result was a more considered, direct approach to his painting. The painting surface is a much more sparsely populated space with a more disciplined application of pigment. The tar-like black enamel paint (often applied using a turkey baster) pools onto, and bleeds into the un-primed canvas creating rich variations in texture and mark.
Pollock’s wife, and fellow abstract painter Lee Krasner described these pieces as ‘painting with the immediacy of drawing… a new category’, a fitting analogy that closely captures the paintings direct and transient nature. Ever one for unorthodox painting materials and techniques I was intrigued to experience applying paint in this manor, so duly added a turkey baster to my own armoury (see below for images). Through the use of a turkey baster, Pollock was able to have a greater degree of control over the characteristics of mark, and indeed range of mark he was able to create. The pieces suggest a greater sense of predictability than his acclaimed drip technique offered, enabling a new refined, disciplined lyrical language.
Perhaps not surprising due to his greater control, these pieces offer a return to a form of figuration. The paintings simmer and bubble with figurative undertones, beautifully executed through Pollock’s signature lyrical expressionism. Figures and faces from deep within the artist’s subconscious drift in and out of focus as the paintings evolve during viewing.
The success of the exhibition at Tate Liverpool is in its ability to re-define a part of Jackson Pollock’s career that has up until now been overlooked. It sheds a valuable new light on the ‘Blind Spots’ surrounding this time of his life but also on our blind spots when viewing these final paintings. The critic and close friend of Pollock, Clement Greenberg said the Black Paintings represented ‘a newer and loftier triumph’ for the artist. A fitting description with which to re-define the legacy of the United States once greatest living painter.