Dear Jackson Pollock
Dear Jackson Pollock,
I respond with love for your enveloping work. I remember first seeing your monumental painting almost fifty years ago when visiting NYC from college. Your work gave me hope, in spite of the fact that you were killed driving drunk–I too “wanted to live large” as you had and paint with broad sweeping gestures and serious physicality. I wanted to hew an American path and join my ancestors “slugging it out in cold water flats of the existentialist 1950s” reliving their “triumph of American painting”. I also don’t have any children. My family of choice, both child or grandchild, live on the walls and in the storerooms of Museums. So do my grandmothers and grandfathers. Childless, my art is my biology. My early works are ancestors, my great aunt or great, great grandmother. My layers of oil paint are paleontological striations of geological time. And they are also human. They are thought made physical. Emotive and also palpitating. When choosing to become an artist in 1971, my first year of college, I felt estranged from my family of origin. I didn’t think pleasure was sinful as my mother did and subsequently had no interest in Calvinism for I was happy to be part of the social revolution of my time. I wanted to think abstractly and live a life of interpretation, not recording reality, responding to passions and idiosyncratic ways of being. I wanted to wear paint-covered clothes and sneakers daily.
Because I love the natural world of the mountains or country I never feel as if I have been a city dweller for most of my life. While the multi-culturalism of my urban life informs my abstractions I have never lost my interest in the organic world. But Mr. Pollock, I really wanted to tell you about my involvement with a high school friend of yours, Reuben Kadish. I was a neighbor of his oldest son, Dan, in Hoboken and as I was working in the gallery at Rutgers University in Newark and subsequently at the NJ State Museum in Trenton I presented Reuben’s work twice. The first time I showed Reuben Kadish’s work was in The Brutal Figure: Visceral Images show in 1986. We showed two large clay heads in the center of the gallery–right in front of the two paintings by Miriam Beerman. Two New Jersey expressionists. Reuben also lived on East 9th Street in Manhattan, not far from Cooper Union where he had taught. Reuben and I never had a closeness as you two had –we never bonded as artists and curators so often did--though I heard that I gave him the best show of his life–at the State Museum. I was probably too young for Reuben, an authoritarian I thought, to respect me, too protestant looking and too friendly with his son Dan whom he felt too conservative. I remember being told that my prettiness would hurt me in the art world as an art student. It may have with Reuben. He reminded me of my intimidating male professors. He sent one of his younger assistants to see my solo show at Susan Schreiber’s project space. His assistant told Reuben that he would not be interested in my work and did not have to go see the show. My work was described as School of Paris which puzzled me as I had never really looked to Paris for inspiration. I accepted Paris’s advances but really began with their successors. I have always thought that Reuben meant School of Paris as a dismissive insult. But today I am reading a book on Hans Hartung , though as much as I like Hartung, I don’t think that Reuben was being magnanimous. I believe I understood him correctly. His sculpture was much more magnanimous and humanly open than he was as a person. His sculpture was expansive, expressionistic, and very bodily. It had integrity and was more sincere in its sensibility than Reuben’s sardonic bearing towards me.
My figurative abstractions of 2001are visceral, almost sexual in their nature. Someone compared them to your early work. I also want my marks to throb and pulsate creating composites for primal plant forms, animals and humans. I too think “I am nature.” But your portrayal in the film Pollock wasn’t that of a spiritually oriented person as I believe artists are, no matter what their chosen style or personality. An accomplished artist, Reuben didn’t seem to behave with any social consideration for me–I imagined his complex disdain. He never thanked me for his great retrospective or told me he liked it. But in spite of my discomfort with him he was an Abstract Expressionist. My favorite realm of art. How do you reconcile a great artist and their damaging actions? Their accomplished oeuvre with their destructive personal relationships? Enamored of Stella’s and Reuben’s work, nonetheless I had observed Stella’s difficulty with her daughter in law, and been told about difficult times with her granddaughter. I knew Dan has suffered being his father’s son. He was never accepted by his father as much as he wanted to preserve Reuben’s work, Reuben never bestowed his approval on Dan. Was it because he was divorced from Musa Guston? Ironically, Dan suggested I show his father. I like Dan very much. But then I am personally aware that artist’s families of origin are not necessarily attuned to a difficult life spent striving to achieve greatness in visual culture and favor a familial life as their chosen priority.
I’ll write again–after I reread my catalogue essay about Reuben and look at my collection of Pollock books.
P.S. In my 20s I first formed my belief in the importance of the New York School’s painting and I stubbornly think that it is still a valid school for contemporary practitioners. Valid for me as well as others. All styles are grist for creation. I’ve never believed that styles become invalid as inspiration and source material for an artist. But I certainly didn’t respect all styles or periods of art. Yet it wasn’t important to me that my chosen style be the dominant currency of the time though this belief made the daily insecurity of being an artist harder for me to bear. Abstract Expressionism was certainly defeated by the ironic Pop aesthetic still so dominant now. Many consign its ethos to history, to the past. Yet I for one do not.