Jackson Pollock, born January 28, 1912 in Cody, Wyoming, moved to New York in 1930 where he studied with (and babysat for) Thomas Hart Benton. From 1938 to 1942 Pollock worked for the WPA. In 1943 Peggy Guggenheim signed him, providing him with a monthly stipend. In 1945 he married fellow painter Lee Krasner and they moved to the little house in East Hampton. It was here, on the floor of the small barn studio, that he began his drip paintings. In 1947 Guggenheim handed Pollock off to Betty Parsons http://www.theartstory.org/gallery-betty-parsons.htm Parsons didn’t keep Pollock on a stipend. 1947 to 1950 was his most prolific period, the majority of his most important work came from these years. In 1949, the year of his first major sold out show with Parsons, LIFE magazine published the four page spread which asked “Is he the greatest living painter in the United States?” His fame was instant, producing jealousies and rivalries. After his celebrity, his work changed, his battle with alcoholism worsened, his decline was rapid. He had stopped painting by the time of his death in 1956 at the age of 44.
His influence on painting is legendary. Pollock’s influence on his contemporaries is fascinating, particularly on the work of Andrew Wyeth. Wyeth (five years younger than Pollock) was fiercely competitive. When LIFE asked the question, Wyeth answered loudly. Pollocks drip technique was employed and became Wyeth’s splatter technique. This splattering is seen clearly in the grasses and foregrounds of most of Wyeth’s paintings after the early 1950’s. By 1965 Wyeth had his own article in LIFE magazine, he was quoted as saying, “My God, when you really begin to peer into something, a simple object, and realize the profound meaning of that thing - if you have an emotion about it, there’s no end.”
(pictured, ‘One: Number 31 - 1950. my favorite Pollock, at MOMA)
Sometimes the best moments are the real moments, not the scripted ones or the lip-synced ones. As Barack Obama turned on the Capitol steps to look out at the crowd on the mall one last time a photographer snapped this photo. It couldn’t have been better composed by a classical painter. The darkest and lightest contrast at the center of the image, surrounded by hits of vibrant color (some of which also happen to be the attire of family members), guards saluting in the wings, figures ascending and torquing and turning… A perfect composition. One of the most real moments of the day providing the greatest picture of the day.
Official portraiture is particularly difficult. The artist must balance the sitter’s public persona and private personality & character. My favorite example of a successful official portrait is Pietro Annigoni’s 1955 portrait of a youthful Queen Elizabeth II.
Lucian Freud (1922-2011) would have celebrated his 90th birthday December 8th. The date passed virtually unnoticed over the weekend. But his muse and model Kate Moss, continues to capture the spotlight… and his memory continues to follow her everywhere she goes; in the form two small bird tattoos that Freud inked himself just above her derriere. Moss, featured in December’s Vanity Fair, famously posed nude for Freud while she was pregnant in 2002. The painting sold at auction at Christie’s London in 2005 for 9.35 million. While Lucian and GrandPa Sigmund smile down on it all.
Will Barnet (1911- 2012) was a major influence on many students at the Pennsylvania Academy in the 1970’s. He took the train down from New York once a week to teach his advanced afternoon painting class. Vincent Desiderio and Brett Bigbee were two students who were closely aligned with Will at the time. Barnet gave his students permission. He showed us a way to explore figuration at a time when abstraction reigned. He also encouraged us to get our work to New York. For those of our generation, in Philadelphia at that time, he was one of the earliest painters to have moved through abstraction and return back to figuration. Late in life he returned to abstraction. He was a great painter and printmaker. He continued to push himself and explore the limits of his art to the end. He passed yesterday. He was 101.
The New York Times obituary aptly ends with…
Mr. Barnet’s first encounters with art were the carvings of skeletal heads and other images on colonial tombstones in a local cemetery in Beverly.
“These were mementos of what had taken place,” he recalled. “At the age of 10 or 12, I discovered that being an artist would give me an ability to create something which would live on after death.”