Blue Poles

Another contentious late Pollock is Blue Poles. Some people call it an outright failure. I think it was failing, but he saved it the same way he saved an earlier picture, now in the Guggenheim collection in Venice.

Jackson Pollock, Alchemy 1947

Alchemy is one of the very early drip pictures, and it was getting pretty loaded, and pretty formless. The last gesture was a number of thin white lines laid at angles across the top. It was as if he was scratching the whole thing out. Certainly the white lines lack the graphic strength and control usual in the drip pictures. I wouldn’t have been surprised if they were knife cuts instead of white paint. But this final, canceling gesture became the solution to an overworked picture that wasn’t coming clear, and I think they work because they are Pollock’s recourse to the typical diagonals of cubism.

Pablo Picasso, The Accordionist 1911

Of course, in this picture the many diagonal lines are integrated fully with the small brush strokes, but they sure pop out as well. All the major analytical cubist figure pictures of Picasso are like that. Greenberg was right, Pollock does not move that far beyond cubism, and the earlier art was on his mind at a difficult moment of transition.

Jackson Pollock, No. 11 1952 (Blue Poles)

Blue Poles was also getting beyond salvage, and like Alchemy it has a lot of silver paint, though I’m not sure that matters. But Pollock pulled it off by remembering the solution to Alchemy, and going about it in a more deliberate, emphatic way. The dancing diagonals, with shreds of something flapping off them in the wind, become a new kind of figuration. Each one of them is a skinny, minimal figure, kind of out Giacometti-ing Giacometti. And at another difficult moment of transition, Pollock remembers the skeleton that supported dissolving, atmospheric cubist matter. The real link to cubism is found in Pollock’s spaces, the interstices of the web, which are his negation and continuation of cubist passage, but these two pictures are so heavy that such a space is difficult to access. By bringing back the supporting scaffold of cubist pictures, the dense matter of his paintings could be conjured into lightness. Maybe. Notice that his method is always to work with the outside or negative of what he is thinking of or striving for.

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