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Painting on Paper:
Jackson Pollock in Berlin



The exhibition No Limits, Just Edges, featuring approximately fifty drawings by Jackson Pollock, American painter and co-inventor of the Abstract Expressionism movement, has met with largely positive response in the press and on the radio. Carsten Probst’s report for the Culture Today broadcast of Deutschlandfunk in Cologne stated, for instance, that "Jackson Pollock chiefly became known as one of the most important champions of action painting. Now, the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin has dedicated a show to one of the artist’s lesser known sides." In order to illustrate the value of Pollock’s drawings, Probst first of all quotes the artist himself: "The drawings I make are connected to my painting, but they do not serve it." Probst interprets the artist’s statement thus: "In other words, he needed no preliminary sketches for his paintings, and this was what constituted his radical break with painting tradition, among other things. Pollock saw his works on paper as a completely autonomous medium, even if he sometimes practiced methods we’re familiar with from his paintings."

The emphasis here, however, is on "sometimes," Probst hastens to add. "Among the approximately fifty works spanning three decades, one naturally encounters things that even viewers less familiar with art like to see as being ‘typically Pollock;’ after all, the American artist, who was born in 1912 in Wyoming, is the famous inventor of Drip Painting." Yet "the really surprising discoveries" are the lesser-known works, according to the author. "An ink drawing from a later phase, for instance, where thinly diluted patches of ink dance like fine clouds of smoke dissolving in the summer air. Or a work in an extreme horizontal format, over five feet long, in which only three large black forms somewhat reminiscent of Arabic letters can be seen on a white background." All in all, according to Probst, "the exhibition carves an aspect of Pollock’s work out with the greatest precision, making an old classic seem completely contemporary again."

In the Berliner Morgenpost, Christiane Meixner considers the Pollock show to be "exemplary in a dual sense: on the one hand, it traces how Jackson Pollock gradually developed from representational, figurative painting to his style of dripping, of making pure marks with paint." On the other hand, Meixner goes on to say, the "comprehensive catalogue accompanying the exhibition also tells some of the story of how the artist’s career began in the nineteen fifties, backed by a powerful American dealer, Peggy Guggenheim," and praises the exhibition as a veritable "event."

For Bernhard Schulz from the Tagesspiegel , as well, this opportunity to experience Pollock’s drawings is a "stroke of luck." Schulz is also pleased with the show’s subtitle "Painting

on Paper," because the artist "almost completely does away with the boundaries between drawing and painting … The culmination point of the exhibition turns out to be a series of works that should really be considered paintings and are merely termed graphic works by virtue of the fact of their having been made on paper." Schulz goes on to describe the artist’s artistic development: "It was indeed a long and winding path that Pollock embarked on, beginning with the figurative works that still heavily bear traces of the Depression Era of the thirties, when Pollock was studying with the staunchly conservative Regionalist Thomas Hart Benton." Back then, however, Pollock was not "particularly capable of gaining much from visible reality." It was only after he "brought out his innermost being and addressed it in a manner that was only barely veiled … that he succeeded in creating authentic and immediate works."

Die Welt am Sonntag writes: "Jackson Pollock will remain famous for all time for his Drip Paintings – the works he created by pouring paint directly onto the canvas. Yet the artist’s early works – from harbor scene kitsch plus lighthouse to the late abstractions par excellence – are far less known, and have been pretty much forgotten in Europe."

In their article on the exhibition, the Frankfurter Rundschau reminds readers just how astonishingly short Pollock’s best creative period really was: “only five years, no more than that.” Yet, in the opinion of the Rundschau critic, these five years sufficed to secure the artist world fame: "a biography like a novel," heavily influenced by his older brother and simultaneously riddled with torturous self-doubt. For the Rundschau, Pollock already died long before his fatal car accident: "he hardly produced a single painting throughout the last years."

Under the title "Every Squirt of Paint a Stroke of Genius," the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung reports: "As the small, but carefully selected show in Berlin demonstrates, the stylistic development of Pollock’s drawings basically corresponds to his paintings. Four phases in the artist’s comparatively short creative period from 1935 to 1956 can be defined: as in his painting, Pollock increasingly progressed through various Surrealist influences towards pure abstraction." For the critic of the NOZ, it’s surprising "how finely balanced the delicate lines, fat drops, and broad marks are applied to the smaller paper formats." According to the NOZ, Pollock’s expressive treatment of materials also works well on "paper, which is more porous," whereas the "drippings on paper" are obviously characterized by a "great joy in experimentation." The Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung speculates that "in the miniatures, Jackson Pollock sought to express his temperament in narrower confines, perhaps even to tame it."