Examination of two brilliant painters whose personal and professional relationship affected the rise of American art in the first half of the 20th century.
Adams (American Art/Case Western Reserve Univ.; Eakins Revealed, 2005, etc.) captures the story of the strange symbiosis between Thomas Hart Benton (1889–1975), a regionalist and realist painter, and Jackson Pollock (1912–1956), a trailblazer in early Abstract Expressionism who became world-renowned for the drip-painting technique he used in his later works. On the surface, the two men’s creative approach was wholly disparate. Benton favored Americana murals that evoked the working class, creating paintings that made a sharp social statement with vivid color and dynamic movement. Pollock’s works suggest universalism within their chaotic sweeps and layers of paint; each seemingly undefined canvas invites the viewer to contemplate both the immensity of imagination as well as the smallness of self. However, the author makes the cogent argument that each painter’s artistic viewpoint, and creative technique, stemmed from the same series of influences that include Rodin, Matisse, Russell and MacDonald-Wright, as well as rhythmic and structural components first used by those involved in the Synchromist movement (circa 1912). Pollock absorbed these aesthetic principles as Benton’s student, and then executed paintings in an entirely innovative way. This allowed Pollock, a man whose adulthood was marred with what later scholars suspect was bipolar disorder (accompanied by bouts of alcoholism) to position himself as unique in an emerging modern-art scene. The potent combination of timing and talent provided Pollock with an opportunity to expand his creative reach, and he studied the works of other artists while approaching the most productive period of his life—but he never abandoned those techniques that were instilled in him as an inchoate artist under Benton’s tutelage. Though Adams’s prose could use some polish, his portrayal of Benton’s impact on Pollock’s formative thinking brings new light to Pollock’s murky process.
An interesting story rife with personal drama and satisfying artistic detail.