Jackson Pollock, 1930-1955 : the influence of the Old Masters
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The imagery in Jackson Pollock’s three extant sketchbooks which date from c.1934-1939 is dependent on that of other artists, especially El Greco, Rubens and Tintoretto. By 1947 however, the painter achieved a mature synthesis, distinctly his, which influenced contemporary painting, and was seminal for the work of a number of artists of the succeeding era. This dissertation is an attempt to document the phases of Pollock’s artistic style from the early 1930s through to the middle 1950s, and to investigate the forces which may have catalyzed his temperament and precipitated his late style. The early sketchbooks begun in c.1934 represent Pollock’s engagement with the art of the Old Masters and the teaching techniques of Thomas Hart Benton that utilized works from the Renaissance. The third sketchbook from c.1937-1939 induced him to re-examine the work of the Old Masters in a dialectical approach which incorporated new masters with old, but remained preoccupied with the sacred imagery found in the first two books. It is a resolution of these seemingly opposing modes of representation which produced several influential paintings in the early 1940s, including Guardians of the Secret and Pasiphae. At the same time these works display structural emulations related to those of Old Master paintings that would become increasingly prominent in Pollock’s art. The canvases of 1947-1950, produced in what is commonly termed the “Classic Poured Period,” appear to represent a quantum leap beyond the concerns of Old Master works and European precedents. By this point Pollock had developed a fluency and assurance in his use of color and line that seems to extend further than the studied paradigmatic repetitions of his early sketchbooks. However, despite the radically new technique his paintings still exhibit pictorial and formal infrastructures derived from Renaissance paintings which were absorbed into Pollock’s new idiom with surprising ease. In 1951 Pollock enters what Francis V.O’Connor termed as ‘his fourth phase’. The Black paintings of 1951-1953 betray a further exploration and adaptation of Old Master ideas, both iconographic and aesthetic and were created in Triptychs and Diptychs, typical altarpiece formats. With these paintings Pollock’s forms acquired a confident plasticity and invention derived from the sculptural practices of Michelangelo, and progressively fewer individual images are quoted verbatim. An understanding of Pollock’s early preoccupation with old Master painting is essential to comprehend the formation of the aesthetics of much of his later art. Significantly the underlying infrastructure remains fixed to old Master precedents and it was precisely these models of Renaissance and Baroque art which became the medium through which his mature synthesis was achieved.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
Embargo Date: 2019-09-06
Embargo Reason: Print and electronic copy restricted until 6th September 2019. Images in electronic copy restricted permanently. Thesis restricted in accordance with University regulations
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