Thursday, August 06, 2015

Painting as a Vocation

“I believe we have responsibilities as artists
to deal with the culture handed down to us
and to find a way to hand it down to our progeny.”
Charles Pollock

For most of his life the American painter Charles Pollock lived in the shadow of his younger brother, Jackson. Where he was methodical and unassuming and lived into his 80s, the younger sibling was mercurial, explosive and died at half that age.

Charles was the first of the Pollock children to move to New York to study art at the Student’s Art League and four years later persuaded his younger brother to join him. Enthralled by social realist painting, Charles’ political idealism saw him leave New York for Washington in 1935 to work for the “New Deal’s” Resettlement Administration as Jackson was getting a toe hold in New York.

The older Pollock subsequently moved to Detroit and eventually settled in Michigan joining the faculty of Michigan State University’s Art Department. Meanwhile abstract expressionism was galvanizing the art world’s attention on New York in which Jackson became a monumental figure.

Coming to the conclusion that politics has “nothing to do with painting” Charles abandoned social realism in favor of abstraction and color field painting a couple of years into his tenure at the university. “Abstract painting,” he is reported to have said, “was simply bringing it back to where I had started from, if I’d had the sense to stay there.”

After 25 years teaching at the Michigan State University, Charles returned to New York, it was a disappointment. As he has said “New York wasn’t the city I knew as a student at the League. I remember the excitement when I arrived in New York for the first time and walked by the Flatiron Building and Madison Square Garden. Now – Fifth Avenue, Madison Avenue, Greenwich Village – architecturally it isn’t the same anymore.”
Four years later he moved to the French capital, Paris where he was to remain for the rest of his life. Over that 17 year period Charles Pollock created several bodies of work which did not always meet with public acclaim. As he said of his 1981 exhibition at the Paris Art Center “Nothing much came from my exhibition, no comment in the press and no sales. It’s about what I expected.”

But undeterred the stoical older Pollock has always maintained about his craft “You have to believe that painting is something tremendously worth doing. Essentially, one feels the need to create great art because it’s been done, because it’s necessary to be done again. It’s a historical necessity more than a personal salvation.”

The exhibition Charles Pollock: A Retrospective is currently on show at Venice’s Peggy Guggenheim Collection until the 14th of September.


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