Passion & Tragedy

 Jackson Pollock, Number 1(Lavender Mist),1950, oil, enamel, aluminum, National Gallery, Washington D.C.

Jackson Pollock, Number 1(Lavender Mist),1950, oil, enamel, aluminum, National Gallery, Washington D.C.

Jackson Pollock was a major American 20th-century Abstract Expressionist who was known for “gestural abstraction”—large scale canvases consisting of drips of paint spattered in random, spontaneous, rhythmical patterns. He would unroll his unstretched canvas across his studio floor so he could view and apply paint from all sides and angles. His technique was a mixture of control and chance---his body movements, gravity, and the flow of paint from the tool he chose to use. “When I am ‘in’ my painting, I’m not aware of what I’m doing…the painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through…the source of my painting is the unconscious.”

Standing in front of Pollock’s gigantic canvas, “Number 1”, I am mesmerized by the pigments that he dripped, poured, and flung. The painting exudes passion. My eyes are lead around the canvas by thick and thin lines, layer upon layer of paint, and colors that blend and contrast. I see variety. I feel intensity. The dense sheet of color of white, black, blue, pink, silver, and orange paint on the canvas emits a glow of lavender, even though the color lavender is not present. This glow feels lyrical. In this sophisticated painting, Pollock even reverted to basic, simple art by dipping his hands in paint and leaving an imprint of his hands in the upper left and right corners of the painting (This served as his signature). Pollock did not title his paintings, opting for a number, hoping the viewer would make the experience personal.

How wonderful to be so passionate about something that allows you to lose all sense of time and all sense of what is going on around you. Complete absorption. Passion is something that everyone can experience through a creative outlet, time with friends and family, and time alone. I fully understand what it means to be completely in the moment. I often sit alone on a park bench that overlooks the turquoise-colored waters of the Pacific Ocean and listen to the rich, raw notes of Aretha Franklin burst from my headphones. Time completely evaporates.

I cannot shake the feeling of “angst” as I view “Number 1”. Pollock’s personal frustrations and inner torments surface on the canvas. He has created a chaotic composition with no beginning and no end. He shows an enthusiasm for sensations as he tries to find a balance between the unconscious and conscious as well as thought and action. Pollock battled addiction and depression throughout his life. He sought help through therapy and psychoanalysis but his personal problems caught up with him. He stopped painting in 1955. In 1956, in an alcoholic-fueled rage, he drove his car into a tree at 80 mph and died at the age of 44.

The Beauty in the Struggle

  Michelangelo, “Awakening Prisoners”  Galleria dell Accademia.

Michelangelo, “Awakening Prisoners” Galleria dell Accademia.

Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.
-Michelangelo

I am overwhelmed standing in front of “Awakening Slave”.  It is a 2.67m marble statue that was originally commissioned by Pope Julius II for his tomb in the Basilica of St. Peter’s as part of a slave series to include more than forty figures in a three-level structure that would surround Moses. The elaborate plan was stopped when Michelangelo was pulled away from the project to paint the Sistine Chapel.  The project was then redesigned and restarted. Over many years, it was stopped and started and eventually, it was aborted.  Awakening Slave now stands in Florence in the Galleria dell Accademia.

I feel a rush of emotions as I stare at the slave making a momentous effort to break away from the marble block--twisting and pulling. I can feel the prisoner’s power and agony. His muscles bulge, his torso strains. The lack of finished detail adds to its immediate and monumental power. The visible chisel marks on the stone elevate the struggle to a new level.

Michelangelo spent months trying to find the perfect marble for his subjects in the quarries of Cararra, Italy. He wanted to reveal the human experience and he felt it was his job to “set the sculptures free” from the confines of the marble. Michelangelo sculpted in a very different manner from the sculptors in his day. While many sculptors would create a plaster cast model and mark the marble block so they would know where to chip, Michelangelo created a groundbreaking process--working by hand.  He called his approach to sculpting the art of “taking away.” He would begin in the front and progress to the back of the block.

I wonder if Michelangelo finished this piece and deliberately left this work unfinished or is the Awakening Slave an unfinished piece? An unfinished piece enhances the tension; showing the never-ending personal and professional struggles and burdens that we encounter in everyday life and need to address. Michelangelo was a person, like you and I, who had faults and insecurities. He was solitary.  He had a melancholic personality. He battled with his sexual identity. He struggled with his relationship with God.

Perhaps the slave is trying to free his spirit? I can only imagine that at times, out of sheer frustration and angst and hopelessness, Michelangelo wanted to jump out of his own skin! Sound familiar? None of us want to feel imprisoned.

 How we so struggle to break away from our temporal selves, to be free, to soar…