All painting used to be executed on easels. European artists were still working that way in the ‘50's when American artists like Jackson Pollock changed studio practice and laid outsized canvases on the floor and spilled out their inwardness in a movement called Abstract Expressionism. Pollock got the fame and glory, complete with a biopic starring Ed Harris playing him. But it can be argued that his wife, fellow Abstract Expressionist Lee Krasner came up with the all-over thickly painted frenetic repetition of swirling forms for which Pollock’s work is known. Except that instead of brushes, he applied paint by dripping it from open cans to form skeins of squiggles free of any focus, accentuation or distinguishable objects.
Bad boy gets the headlines
If you wonder why Pollock is famous and Krasner isn’t, likely it’s because his back story is juicier. He was an alcoholic and an adulterer who died drunk in a car crash at age 44 in 1956. In contrast, sober and loyal Krasner, who died at age 74 in 1984, lacked intrigue. So Pollock got all the ink. And even a definitive book like “Movements in #Art Since 1945” by art historian Edward Lucie-Smith (revised in 1984) left Krasner out of the story.
Sexism past and present
To the credit of England’s Royal Academy of Art, its current survey of Abstract Expressionism takes in work by Krasner. This is no small thing given art world thinking since the ‘40s that women can’t paint. In 1990, Whitney Chadwick’s “Woman, Art and Society” noted Freud’s disciple Havelock Ellis declaring that “only men had the wings for art.” It’s not surprising, then, that when Krasner’s famed teacher Hans Hoffman complimented one of her works, it amounted to faint praise: “This painting is so good,” he said, “you’d never know it was done by a woman.”
It’s also not surprising that despite the inclusion of Krasner at the Royal Academy, it’s Pollock and a large cast of male painters who get the big promotion in press releases. In that way, either knowingly or unknowingly, the Academy invites viewers to give their attention to the likes of “Jack the Dripper” - the nickname that Time Magazine gave Pollock in 1956. Maybe that’s because he spoke in more visceral ways than Krasner. For example, he said he preferred painting on the floor so he could he can walk around the painting and feel he’s in it. Krasner art talk was less reflexive, as in, when the inner and outer part of her come together, the absence of recognizable objects is inevitable.
But Pollock’s art talk didn’t always seem sincere, like when he answered the question, how does he know when a painting is finished. His answer? ”How do you know when you’re finished making love? This was not only a wise-guy answer, but it also suggested unawareness that making love involves two people and that you’re finished when both agree. For that, this column offers Krasner posthumous sympathy. #Android