Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Pollock Project

I went to the Mennello Museum of American Art to watch and sketch Beth Marshall's, "The Pollock Project". This performance was a unique collaboration with drama intertwined with performances by the DRIP dance troupe. The first evening I focused all my attention on the beginning of the performance which took place outside the front steps of the museum. I had seen this DRIP dance routine in rehearsals so I was curious to see the final performance. I had not realized that audience members were encouraged to sit right underneath the Plexiglas canvas as the dancers painted it. As soon as Jessica Mariko told me this I put down my seat and staked out my claim on this prime seating real estate. I started a sketch from this vantage point but ended up erasing it since I felt I would need a much larger sheet of paper to catch the wide angle view. When more people crowded under the Plexiglas "canvas" I decided to pull back and sketch from a short distance to catch the audience. I was still working on the sketch when the audience went inside the museum for the second act. Stubbornly I remained behind to finish my sketch. When the audience returned back outside I was still hard at work.
I returned for the second performance so I could experience the show firsthand as an audience member. This time I remained under the Plexiglas to watch the DRIP dancers as they went through their ritualistic dance and painting routine. A little boy seated behind me said to his mother, "It looks like syrup."
Inside the museum the drama unfolded as Hans Namuth, a photographer, interviewed Pollock in front of the two original paintings on exhibit in the museum as part of the Auspicious Visions exhibition. The interview gets heated when Hans mentions to Pollock what some critics said about his work, for instance a 1959 headline read, "It's a bad joke in bad taste." Pollock goes ballistic, angrily pacing around the room defending his work. He storms out of the room and shouts back that he wants the photographer out of his house. Lee Krasner, his wife, manages to calm him down and in a more levelheaded way he tries to explain himself to Hans. He explains that his pictures do not have a beginning or an end, that style isn't important. His method is a growth out of a need. Lee explains that Pollock's painting are numbered rather than named since Jackson doesn't want people to have a preconceived notion of what they are looking at. Where he to title a painting, "Horse", then people would find a need to see a horse.
I felt that John DiDonna gave a memorable performance at the temperamental Jackson Pollock and Douglas McGeouch's quiet demure performance as Hans Namuth stood in stark contrast, offering a calm in the storm. Jennifer Bonner with her thick Brooklyn accent was a believable Lee Krasner, who had her hands full trying to keep Jackson steady through his violent mood swings. The small gallery room was crowded with the audience all standing on the outer walls trying to leave room for the angry Pollock. The tight space added to the claustrophobic feel of the drama.
The third act takes place back outside where Jackson Pollock paints while Nemuth shoots his film footage. It is during this act that the collaboration is in full effect. The DRIP dancers, now free of the ladders are given full reign to express themselves through dance. Jackson dances around the canvas creating his "action painting" as the dancers perform. I was particularly moved when audience members each read a quote about Jackson Pollock. It left me feeling that no matter what critics might say, it is the people viewing the art who will finally decide its worth over time.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at


Anonymous said...

Thomas - I am honored! Have not been in a sketch yet! Bravo! (Do you mind if I post on my facebook?) - John DiDonna

Thor said...

Of course feel free to post on facebook. My one concern in this sketch was that you were in constant motion while painting. The pose could be more dynamic but I like that you and Namuth mirror one another.

beth Marshall said...

Excellent! last name is spelled Marshall ( 2 L's) FYI.

Love the sketches.
Want them :)

Thor said...

Whoops, popped in the edit Beth.

Anonymous said...

- Douglas McGeoch

Thor said...

Thanks Douglas!

Beth Marshall said...

I want to get this.