Unreal Nature

May 18, 2015

Each Line

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… These are not bloodless, optical lines …

This is from the essay ‘Pollock at Work: The Films and Photographs of Hans Namuth‘ by Pepe Karmel found in Jackson Pollock (1998):

… It seems impossible, in retrospect, to distinguish the objective Pollock from the mythic Pollock who was, in a sense, created by Namuth’s photographs.

pollock_painting

… At first [ ~ 1950] Namuth’s photographs and film met with a lukewarm, even negative response.

… [However] From the 1960s on, no reader on Pollock could fail to absorb Namuth’s dramatic portrait of the artist in action. Beginning in 1967, when MoMA organized a major retrospective of Pollock’s work, Namuth’s photographs became virtually obligatory illustrations for both scholarly and popular writings about him. Indeed it has been suggested by Barbara Rose that over the decades, “Namuth’s photographs and film affected a far larger audience than the paintings had.” Relatively few people saw Pollock’s paintings first-hand, and they lost much of their impact in reproduction. In contrast, the photographs remained effective even in small scale. What stuck in people’s minds was less Pollock’s work than Namuth’s images of him making it.

[ … ]

Namuth’s photographs, reproduced in numerous reviews and articles, fostered the idea of translating “action painting” into what might have been called “action sculpture.” Fifteen years earlier, Rosenberg had written that a painter like Pollock “approached his easel … with material in his hand to do something to that other piece of material in front of him. The image would be the result of this encounter.” Now sculptors like Robert Morris, Eva Hesse, Barry Le Va, Bruce Nauman, and Richard Serra began “doing things” to a range of non-art materials like felt, glass, rubber, and lead. Documentary photography played an increasingly large role in their work, because the results of their encounters with materials were often intelligible only in light of the action that had produced them.

[ … ]

… Yet Namuth’s photographs and films suggest a serious problem with what we might call the kinesthetic reading of Pollock’s work — that is, the reading that sees Pollock’s lines, spatters, and pools as signs evoking not conventional images but the dancelike movements that created them. The problem is that the kinesthetic sensation evoked by a given mark is often the exact opposite of the movement that actually produced it. Constantly changing direction, Pollock’s lines give a sense of rapid, unpremeditated motion. But the films suggest that they were drawn in a controlled, deliberate fashion, with a brush or stick held at a more or less constant distance above the canvas. Meanwhile the denser pools of paint, with their relative lack of directional emphasis, seem static in comparison to the lines; but the photographic evidence suggests that they were created by rapid flicks and flings of wrist and arm.

pollock_namuth01

… Even if this account of Pollock’s large-scale compositional procedures is correct, of course, it does not explain the seductive energy and vitality of the particular lines that create the local rhythms of his pictures. These are not bloodless, optical lines, “freed from the job of describing contours and bounding shapes,” as Fried wrote; rather, as Rubin insists, “Pollock’s drawing derives from a tradition in which space is not thought of as an autonomous void but in reciprocity with solids. … ”

… From a distance, Pollock’s webs seem to dissolve into the optical flicker of Impressionism. Up close, each line reasserts itself as a potential contour, or a sculptural shape in its own right. But Pollock breaks with earlier art in his refusal to let the eye rest for more than an instant: guided by the picture’s hidden structure, it moves continuously from point to point across the surface. New contours emerge as old ones merge back into the web. Form comes momentarily into being and then dissolves.

Last week’s Pollock post, from the other essay in this same book, is here.

-Julie

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