Remember when you were a little kid sitting in arts and crafts flinging paint with a paint brush onto white paper or even using your hands to paint unknown designs? Well my friends that method can be also known as Abstract Expressionism and in the 1940’s and 50’s it took off like wild fire. Although many proved to be Abstract Expressionists one triumphed them all, that one being, Jackson Pollock. Jackson Pollock is an important figure in the art world. He is known for starting a movement of abstract expressionism by using his body and motion to create huge pieces of art on large canvases.
However, his leap from abstract art to figurative took us all by the reins into a new direction of who Jackson Pollock was and is. Jackson Pollock figurative works are representational but also show a deeper meaning and metaphor hiding within. Jackson Pollock rose into fame with his abstract paintings “in the summer of 1950 with the completion of four magisterial canvases”, however with every high there comes a low and soon his abstract ways “failed him”.
From then his return to figuration was vivid and Pollock’s old style of painting was back or as he put it, “some of my early images coming through” meaning that his style of using his full body leaning over a canvas to create the art would slowly disappear and his old style of “Mexican mural painting and the American Regionalist” would shine through (Thames & Hudson 389). However, his signature dripping of paint still remained.
Portrait and a Dream painted by Pollock in 1953, “was finished three years prior to Pollock’s death” (Examining Jackson Pollock’s “Painting and a dream”) and not only showed the struggle of what the young artist was going through his last years but also a representation of what his art was going through as a whole. The painting all together once you really look at it is actually very sad and dark because of the circumstances behind it. Pollock put himself in the painting not only mentally but physically with the fast gestures of his hand, the spit, and even his own cigarette ashes.
He became this painting and this painting became him with the inner and outer self of the portrait and a dream. T. J Clark, in Art Since 1900 argued that Pollock’s images were not only representational but also an analogy and that indeed would be true for most Pollock’s works and shown in this painting. This painting is a metaphor for his own life. The chaos, the sadness, the struggle, the insanity of his own life was crumbling and the drunkenness reality shined through with the pain and torcher of “violent lines” (Portrait and a Dream) and faces that looks beaten up.
Pollock seems to paint a picture from the “unconscious with memory images” (Thames & Hudson 389) meaning that such as in his figurative art he pulls from past memories and images from native cultures and represent it into his art work. In one of his works titled, Guardians of the Secret, it is viewed as “the emergence of unconscious impulses into the conscious thought” and pulls from Native and African cultures.
It is also that, “the rooster is a symbol of fertility, but it may also recall the time Pollock lost the tip of his finger as a child when he put his hand in the way of an axe meant to kill a chicken” (The Art Story) so not only representational but also extracts from past memories or as you can say unconscious memory images. Clark not only argued that his work was representational with a deeper meaning of a metaphor but that Pollock was obsessed with the oneness and wholeness.
The idea of wholeness, as in undivided, complete, belonging, makes you question was he obsessed with wholeness because his life was not really whole? Not really in one piece? Not really an aspect of being intact? Pollock went through many harsh critiques and even in his figurative art such as, Portrait and a Dream kind of shows the dwindling down of what the artist was truly going through. The wholeness and oneness seemed to disappear and clearly visibly showing the true colors of a broken man who was indeed not whole or in one piece but broken.
Although Clark argued that Pollock had a kind of obsession with oneness most figurative work “display marks of discontinuity and aimlessness… roughness” (Matthew Rampley 90). Showing a deeper representation of again what he was going through as an artist and person. His work is between two poles of wholeness and chaos or such as “harmonious, being whole and dissonant, lacking harmony that is tempting to conclude that we are faced with a conflict of interpretations, it is as if Pollock himself cannot decide which metaphor is more appropriate” (Matthew Rampley 91).
Portrait and a Dream vividly shows the chaos side of Pollock. The fast strokes, aimless, wild energy and splash of color. At first glance you can vividly see that on the right with bright color is a figure or portrait and on the left is hard to depict but can kind of make out forms from the black and white lines. Is the right portrait Pollock as his true self? As a bright, understood person that is chaotic (such as the black and white side) but also beautiful? We can only guess that he was waging a war with himself, a war of wholeness and order vs. the chaos and downfall.
The downfall of what he knew what going to happen and even eventually his career which ended with death. The visual aspect plays out the representational mess and spiraling disorder of the portrait and the dream. It brings it all back to what T. J Clark was arguing that the images are representational but also a metaphor. What makes a work of art? Is it the effort put into it or would you say the title? The title in the art work can make or break a piece and for Pollock the titles were the core of most works and for understanding most of his works.
Majority of Pollock’s titles were centered around that oneness or wholeness again showing us that weird obsession with unity. The title of his works really express the core or center of what he was doing. I think anymore would agree that the title of a work can drastically change someone’s opinion of what they are looking at and even change someone’s point of view. Titles can make a work but is Pollock’s figurative use of abstraction only a repeat of representational cliches?
Stated by T. J Clark in Art Since 1900 Pollock’s drive for abstraction arose from a sense of likeness or that figurative could only repeat representational cliches. I would have to disagree and say that they are representational and he does seem to repeat in a lot of his work but that is just his style. In his figurative works I would have to say that it shows a deeper metaphor and doesn’t follow the cliches or an old tired trend because they seem to all pull from different aspects of traditions, customs and memories. However, they do have a sense of repeating with him viewing a representational image.
In portrait and a dream, he doesn’t seem to use his Mexican mural painting ways but pulls from the protrail of unconscious memories and even from within himself that being that it is a portrait. He not only painted the unconscious but he also painted with meaning even if he didn’t mean to. He did that by leaving hand prints all over his works of art, physically putting himself into his work. T. J Clark shares that, that was the core of his being. Wither it was intentional or not it really changes the aspect of the whole piece of art.
As the years went on “Pollock never really lost his interest in figurative imagery, as he once put it, “I’m very representational some of the time, and a little all of the time. But when you’re painting out of your unconscious, figures are bound to emerge” (The Art Story) and they did indeed emerge. They emerged from cultures, memories and even from within himself. From hitting what was within Pollock soon went into a downfall by falling into drinking and displayed that downfall in Portrait and a Dream. It captures the sad reality of Pollock and shines a light on the true essence of representational art.