Exhibit Highlights the Roots of Jackson Pollock’s Style
By Michelle Trauring
Looking at “CR1057 (P3) (Plowing),” you can see it — first, the style of Thomas Hart Benton, and then something else.
Something newer, something fresher. Something that looks like a Jackson Pollock — before “a Jackson Pollock” even existed.
But that is precisely what it is, explained Christina Strassfield, chief curator and museum director of Guild Hall in East Hampton, now exhibiting a suite of 12 prints by the abstract expressionist that foreshadowed his signature style and eventual fame.
“To me, I feel there’s a great energy and a great vibrancy to them,” Strassfield said of the prints. “He was taught by Thomas Hart Benton in the American Regionalist style and the print is very similar. If someone said to you, ‘This is a Thomas Hart Benton print,’ you would say, ‘Oh okay, yeah.’
“What I love about that print, in juxtaposition to Pollock’s later work, is that you see he could do the figurative,” she continued. “He had really mastered it beautifully. But he completely chose to go in a completely different direction and a different movement, and create a whole energy of his own, and I think that is wonderful. This one print showing that is really exciting for the visitor to comprehend that.”
Until landing at Guild Hall, Strassfield knew Pollock only for his abstract poured paintings. When she saw one of the artist’s prints in the museum collection, it unlocked a whole new side to Pollock, she said, even though “it was not his favorite thing.”
Still, there is a sense of movement and discovery in each one, she said, which include six engravings from 1944 to 1945, reprinted in 1964, and six screenprints from 1951, reprinted in 1967.
“When you have an artist like Jackson Pollock, it’s wonderful to be able to comprehend this whole body of his work. The printmaking, he didn’t really create many more past this,” Strassfield said. “To have all that right in front of you, you think about that in it of itself, how it stands on its own and how it does reflect the precursors to his paintings that happened afterward.”
At the time of his printmaking, Pollock was preparing for his second solo show with Peggy Guggenheim, the first of his three dealers who is responsible for the artist’s move from Manhattan to Springs. She granted him a $2,000 loan as a down payment on his house and studio, where he would go on to make his most iconic work by standing above his canvases—as he first did with his printmaking plates, Strassfield said — which led to his signature style.
“So many people say, ‘Oh I could do that. I could do that,’” Strassfield said of the artist’s splatter technique. “Still to this day, they say, ‘Well you know, it’s nothing special that he did,’ and it’s like, are you kidding me? He was the first and it was his idea, and many copied afterward and many continue to copy him. For that, he will always be iconic.”
“Jackson Pollock: The Graphic Works” will be on view through October 9 at Guild Hall in East Hampton. A gallery talk with Helen Harrison, director of the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center, will be held on Saturday, August 19, at noon. Admission is free. For more information, call (631) 324-0806, or visit guildhall.org.