I never really considered Jackson Pollock to be an artist. I always found his work to be as the early critiques called it: a mop of tangled hair. Perhaps that was merely because I only looked at is as critiques had looked at it. After watching Pollock (2006) I think I can finally see it for what it is. Jackson Pollock’s work was actually brilliant.
The film began when Pollock was still a starving artist simply trying to get by in New York while painting with the inspiration of cubists and surrealists. At that point, Pollock was still using large brushes in their conventional way, and at times, even the paint tube as his means of applying paint to the canvas. The audience is taken through several periods of Pollock’s life. Throughout all of it, Pollock suffers from alcoholism, which later becomes his demise. The plot of the film is centered around his struggle to develop a unique style of his own that will be seen as worthwhile by critiques. His wife, Lee, is constantly encouraging him while his friend and art critique, Clement, seems to constantly provide constructive criticism that pushes Pollock forward and urges him to come up with something better all the time.
In the film, Pollock is characterized as a reclusive, drunk painter with a mighty temper. He seems to despise Picasso as he struggles to be a cubist himself. His world begins to fall apart around him as he carries on with binge drinking and excessive partying. Each time he hits bottom, he finally wakes up from his drunken stupors, and realizes what is important to him [his wife and his painting]. Each time he begins painting again with a new-found inspiration, passion, and sometimes even a new technique. This cycle is repeated four or five times throughout the film until he has no hope left, stops painting all together, and in the end, he becomes so broken down by the alcohol and so depressed by his actions that he “accidentally” crashes his car while drunk, killing himself and his mistress’ friend.
Pollock falls into the compartmentalized art movement of abstract expressionism. However, he seems to have a style all his own. Although his work appears to literally be paint thrown carelessly on a canvas, it goes deeper than that. All of his works are carefully rendered. Each drip or splat of paint was thought about and placed with a controlled gesture. This is possibly why his artwork has been called action painting or gesture painting. He used his entire body to approach his canvases from all sides as they sprawled out on the floor for him to walk around, through, and over in such a way that he could actually be part of the paintings themselves. In this way, he was able to express everything that he felt and went through in his short life.
The film, Pollock, was very well produced and directed. The actors portrayed their characters in such a believable fashion that I could finally understand the passion that went into Pollock’s work. Before watching it, I had no idea what Pollock was attempting to paint, but the film got all of this across. It seemed very believable and I found myself relating to him as an artist. The time-period was depicted in a very real sense. Each detail from the clothing to the way the grocery store looked portrayed a very real American dream of the 1940’s and early 50’s. The focus was obviously placed on the artist’s biography because it had such a huge impact on his paintings. I can now see the anger, the confusion, the attempts to be something great, and the passion that he held in his works.
In Pollock’s time, it seems as though there was almost a race going on; there was a race to be original and come up with something new that was not done before. Emphasis was no longer on classical training such as perspective and realistic approaches. In his time, it was all about feelings, emotions, and expressing the soul through paint. This was very apparent when he was asked, “How do you know when you are finished with a painting?” and he answered, “How do you know when you are finished making love?” Painting was his life and all the other bits and pieces fell into place around his painting. Even his wife took a backseat to his painting at times. When Pollock received negative criticism, he got angry and that fueled his need to paint even more feverishly to produce even better works as if to prove himself as not only a worthwhile artist, but as a worthwhile person too.
By the end of the film I felt as though I knew Pollock. I was excited for him when things went well, and I felt bad for him when they did not. I began to actually consider him an artist. When he got to the point at the end of the film, where he was so drunk and broken that he drove his car recklessly off the road and was killed, I had tears in my eyes. I wanted to yell at the screen that he had so much more within himself to give the world. I’d say that makes a good film. Within the two hours of watching the film, I went from not considering him an artist, to being upset that his life was cut short because I wanted to see what more could come from such an amazing and dedicated artist.