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Hamptons Life

Apr 30, 2012 9:14 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Pollock Lives On In The Works Of Others

May 1, 2012 10:26 AM

Jackson Pollock was killed in a drunk driving crash in Springs in 1956, but the artist’s works live on.

The legacy of the most famous abstract expressionist in the world has loomed over generations of artists, inspiring their work or daring them to replicate his. Many have tried—and many have failed.

Admittedly, artist Joe Fig is one of the latter.

“It must have been sometime in high school. I remember trying to do a Pollock,” Mr. Fig, now 44, recalled during a telephone interview last week. “‘Oh, this is easy,’ I thought. ‘It’s just painting.’ I was trying to do a drip painting like Pollock. It didn’t come out very good.”

He laughed. “I thought, ‘I can just do it.’ It looked terrible.”

The artist learned his lesson, but didn’t quit. Decades later, he’s created meticulous reproductions of Pollock’s work and his surroundings—including the painter’s studio in Springs, where now sits the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center, which on Thursday, May 3, will open “The Persistence of Pollock,” an exhibit featuring the work of Mr. Fig and 12 others whose art reflects upon the expressionist’s impact on the art world.

“The idea is to show that Pollock isn’t really dead,” Pollock-Krasner House Director Helen Harrison, and exhibition co-curator, explained during a telephone interview last week. “We all know he departed this earth on August 11, 1956, but his influence and his relevance are still valid. Each artist gets something very personal from his work because the art itself is very personal.”

The exhibition ranges from oil on canvas and lithographs to the more unexpected, Ms. Harrison reported.

Take artist Janine Antoni, for example. Her 1996 performance of “Loving Care”—during which she replaces paint with hair dye and the brush with her own hair—will screen in the exhibition.

“She uses the idea of physical painting and translates it into feminist terms,” Ms. Harrison said. “Pollock is held up as this macho icon, and she turns the act of painting into a feminist gesture. I found that very interesting.”

Pollock’s influence has traversed the globe, finding its way into many different cultures. Even painter Arnold Chang has tackled Pollock’s work, via his traditional Chinese ink landscapes.

Mr. Chang will be displaying a preliminary study, “Reorienting Pollock,” for the finished Chinese landscape handscroll that he made for the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. It’s a direct response to Pollock’s “Number 10,” he explained in an email last week.

“The key to this piece is that, unlike most Chinese landscape paintings, there is no set orientation for viewing it,” he wrote. “You can hang it upside down and it still works as a landscape. I was mimicking Pollock’s process of walking around the painting as he painted and applying paint from all sides.”

Like Pollock, Chinese painting is done flat. But rather than putting the canvas on the floor and applying the poured-paint technique, the absorbent paper is laid on a table and painted with a brush. But because the medium he paints with is wet ink, Mr. Chang is forced to work very quickly, he said.

“The time spent where brush actually meets paper is very short, but there is a lot of thought and planning that goes into the process,” he explained. “Most of the time is spent starting at the paper and figuring out what to do next.”

The exhibit will also include the work of several familiar artists, including Andy Warhol, Alfonso Ossorio and Norman Rockwell, who is responsible for one of the most unexpected tributes to Pollock: the Saturday Evening Post magazine cover “The Connoisseur.”

Just six years after Pollock’s death, Rockwell re-created one of his works for the now-famous cover. While making a series of studies, his usually tidy studio was transformed into an abstract expressionist workspace, similar to Pollock’s studio. Photographs documenting Rockwell working are eerily reminiscent of the Hans Namuth’s photographs that captured Pollock leaning over his art in his own studio.

The published Saturday Evening Post cover shows the back of a suit-clad man looking at Rockwell’s “Pollock.” The viewer can’t see his reaction.

That same year he painted the illustration, Rockwell was asked to reflect on his career choice.

As reported, his response was: “If I were young and starting out again, I would try to be an abstract artist. But at the time I started in art, almost 50 years ago, illustration was an exciting thing. I was very lucky to be able to do the thing I liked most.”

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