No Limits, Just Edges: Jackson Pollock Paintings on Paper

No Limits, Just Edges: Jackson Pollock Paintings on Paper


Venue: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum 1071 Fifth Avenue (at 89th Street), New York City
Dates: May 26–September 29, 2006

Overview: The exhibition No Limits, Just Edges: Jackson Pollock Paintings on Paper reveals a relatively unknown aspect of the American painter and Abstract Expressionist: Pollock's works on paper. This retrospective selection of approximately sixty works from international collections highlights the most important phases of Pollock's oeuvre and documents the development of his drawing in a survey spanning from his figurative, strongly European-influenced beginnings to the abstract compositions of his later years. The exhibition, curated by Susan Davidson, Curator, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, was previously shown at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice (June 4–September 18, 2005) and Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin (January 29–April 10, 2005).

During his brief and brilliant career, Pollock produced approximately seven hundred works on paper in a variety of traditional drawing mediums—pencil, ink, watercolor, gouache, and collage, as well as, toward the end of his life, poured enamel. At the time of his first one-person exhibition, in the Daylight Gallery of Peggy Guggenheim's historic New York gallery Art of This Century, in November 1943, the artist chose to exhibit both paintings and drawings. This was in part for practical reasons, as smaller works sold more easily. However, the primary motivation was Pollock's conviction that his paintings on canvas and his works on paper deserved equal attention as expressions of his artistic aims.

The stylistic development of Pollock's drawings mirrors that of his paintings, and four loosely grouped categories can be defined. The first, from circa 1935 to circa 1941, is characterized by figuration of both human and imaginary beings. It includes three sketchbooks that surfaced after his death and a group of unbound drawings that are most often connected to the psychoanalytical treatment the artist underwent in an attempt to deal with his alcoholism. The second stylistic grouping, a body of fully mature works dating from circa 1942 through 1947 and corresponding approximately to Pollock's association with Peggy Guggenheim's Art of This Century, is distinguished by an idiosyncratic iconography he developed in part as a response to Surrealist influences. With mythical subject matter, calligraphic markings, and a vibrant and distinctive color palette, Pollock produced emotionally charged paintings and works on paper that retain figurative subject matter yet emphasize abstract qualities.

The third stylistic set comprises Pollock's breakthrough works, commonly perceived as pure abstraction and made over the course of an explosive and intense period between late 1947 and 1950. Not only did Pollock move away from a reliance on traditional figuration and subject matter, he also broke free from the standard use of drawing and painting implements, abandoning their direct contact with the surface. Instead, he worked from distances above the picture plane, using dripping, pouring, and splattering techniques—methods that were not necessarily Pollock's invention alone but that he pushed to new extremes.

The fourth and final group represents a refinement of Pollock's pouring techniques. The drawings are stylistically related to his works on canvas of the time, but whereas earlier drawings had a clear connection to larger canvases, these later drawings specifically exploit the qualities of working with fluid mediums on porous paper. Like the canvas paintings of 1950–52, these drawings exhibit a more open, light ground scattered with lyrical compositions of calligraphic forms. The last four years of Pollock's life-- he died tragically in an automobile accident on August 11, 1956 -- are almost devoid of drawings; correspondingly, his output of paintings also diminished.

Catalogue: The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with essays by David Anfam, Susan Davidson, and Margaret Holben Ellis, which is available for $40.

October, 2005

Betsy Ennis / Leily Soleimani
Guggenheim Public Affairs

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