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ACTION JACKSON by Jan Greenberg Kirkus Star


by Jan Greenberg & Sandra Jordan & illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker

Age Range: 6 & up

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2002
ISBN: 0-7613-2770-3
Publisher: Roaring Brook

Art history specialists Greenberg and Jordan (Boston Globe/Horn Book–winning Chuck Close, Up Close, 1998; Sibert Honor–winning Vincent Van Gogh: Portrait of An Artist, 2001) have again pushed the nonfiction envelope with this astonishing biography cum evocation of action painter and abstract expressionist icon Jackson Pollock. Dubbed “Action Jackson”—or sometimes even “Jack the Dripper”—by critics and admirers alike, Pollock is an acknowledged reference point for all late-20th-century painters. His influence has captivated the likes of illustrators Norman Rockwell and Ian Falconer and even actor-directors like Ed Harris. How to parse a painter like Pollock? In a stroke of expository genius, they focus on a semi-imagined account of an intense period in Pollock's life—May through June 1950. The brief frenzy of work that produced the transcendent and transformational painting “Number 1, 1950” known as “Lavender Mist.” Greenberg and Johnson make strategic use of contemporaneous accounts and press sources including Hans Namuth’s photos and documentary film. The book’s back matter includes the terrifically interesting and surprisingly complete two pages of notes and sources. A perfect little biographical essay offers all the needed details including this poignant passage, a discreet but unsparing observation that: “Jackson struggled with alcoholism and depression for most of his adult life. When he was sober, he painted well, but when he was drinking he felt discouraged and temperamental.” In tandem with this, it is hard to convey the equally astonishing strength of Parker’s illustrations. A widely exhibited watercolorist of considerable renown (winner of the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award for Cold Feet, 2000), Parker shows us both the mood and sensibility of the painter while he demonstrates the how of Pollock’s technique. His semi-realistic and pleasingly spiky India Ink drawings are heightened with expansive gloriously transparent watercolor washes in palette that often subtly reflect the colors and values of Pollock’s “Lavender Mist.” Parker evokes Pollock’s painting with his own painter’s hand. He masterfully conveys painting as an active dance of form and color. This stunning collaboration is both a tour de force and an uncommon pleasure. (Picture book/biography. 6+)