At the cusp of the age of Post-Modernism the Australian Government purchased the large painting called ‘Blue Poles’ by Jackson Pollock, an American who worked and splashed his way to notoriety after the Second World War.
The art purchase created a fuss in 1973.
Entire pine plantations were pulped for newsprint to rationalize the fuss.
I was among thousands who subsequently made the trip to Canberra to see it suspended on a wall by stone stairs that ascended to another exhibition hall. The very large splattered and bruised painting with its eight slashes linked other exhibits in low chambers to higher chambers.
On my return to the atelier my father enquired about what I thought of Pollock’s ‘Blue Poles’.
“What did you see?” he asked.
“What I saw and what I thought I saw differed,” I replied. “The artwork is an excruciating agony, like slashed skin with stale blood spray from the cuts of discoloured flesh.”
“So, this artwork disturbed?” he asked.
“I thought it was very unsettling because I found its aura wobbled, hung as it was in a space between other spaces of totally different moods,” I replied.
“Did you find it distinctive in any other way?” he asked.
“It is a violently manic piece that jars something I don’t get.” I said.
“It makes a comment about a particular moment in history, a moment before you were born.” replied my father. He continued:
“That point in time is permanently scared on my own and the collective psyche of all those who travelled through that period in history and survived the injuries we received.
“The ‘Blue Poles’ that you saw hanging in Canberra doesn’t belong there, even though it was purchased by the Australian Government to hang in the new art gallery of contemporary spaces. The space it occupies is disingenuous to its raison d’être, its initial determination.
“It came to be in 1952, a dismal time following the conflagration of the war. Everything was depressing then and it didn’t get better until the Beatles sang the ditty ‘Love Me Do’.
“Total war slashed the consciousness of our world thoroughly and ‘Blue Poles’ epitomizes that specific element by visualizing what we all felt.
“Pollock’s ‘Blue Poles’ captures the emotional baggage each and every one of us who survived those times of travail carry daily.
“Blue Poles hurts. It’s meant to hurt.”
My father offered the most succinct explanation, one that I understood and felt.
Much is written about ‘Blue Poles’, its meaning and its cost.
In a last comment my father said that the debate about its cost demeans us, following the time of no expenses spared in sorely bruising, wounding and killing in worldwide total conflict.
“That’s what ‘Blue Poles’ actually alludes to,” he said. “The humiliation of the ‘I’s, all of us who survived the cutting putrefaction of our generation. The dripping decomposition of hope represented by those toppling blue-black poles.”
Seeing ‘Blue Poles’ in a 1952 context I think it’s an expression of a moment in history, tying the emotional spaces from before to those that came afterwards.
The expressionistic artwork makes a Post-Modernism statement by a heavy drinking maniacal artist twenty-five years before the art freaks coined the ‘ism’ term to label the phenomenon. Go figure!
Yes, it’s bizarre but I ‘get it’ now. ‘Blue Poles’ by Pollock is angry baggage that transcends the generations to wound me too. Money cannot buy its emotional wrench and weight as signifier, our inheritance of appalling trauma.
‘Blue Poles’ depicts mankind’s failure on a scale unimaginable!
©Pieter Zaadstra 2015 – an opinion essay for my atelier art session