1000 Heads: the book

1000 heads, my illustration book

Inspiring books for the creative type


6.11.06

Biographies and biopics: Pollock, de Kooning, Basquiat

Ed Harris as Jackson PollockI have recently read a number of biography books and seen some biopics about modern and contemporary artists, such as the book de Kooning: an american master and the biopic Pollock (available in DVD). This film, directed by the actor Ed Harris and based upon the book Pollock: an american saga was released in 2000, after nearly a decade of development. Spending years painting and researching the painter, Ed Harris oversaw all aspects of the film, including directing, producing, and starring in the main role. Harris was nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award for this work.
Those in search of entertainment will find that little seems to happen in the movie, and compared to the story in the book it may seem a rather patchy storyline. Yet it is an engaging picture, tastefully directed and performed with conviction. Ed Harris does a superb interpretation as usual: he really becomes Pollock.

As the great hero of abstract expressionism, Pollock’s antics and his drunken persona are well known. A complex character oscillating between opposites of depression and euphoria, introspection periodes and fun-loving moments. But beyond this public side of the painter, a very complex story waited to be told.

Quite a few things about Jackson Pollock surface in the award-winning de Kooning biography, de Kooning: an american master, by Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan. You get to know more about the supposed rivarly between the two abstract painters, the pains and pressures of success for an artist who had struggled for years of poverty and hard work. The greatness and the misery of an artist’s life.

There is one interesting moment in the film, when Pollock is walking around in his Long Island retreat and he stops to look the patterns in the shallow waters: pebbles, seashells and seaweed moving with the water flow. Not long after he works out his best known painting style; apparently it is a matter of accident, but you wonder what the artist is looking for in the empty canvas. The accidental dripping of the brush seems to trigger the discovery of what Pollock had been looking for.

This aspect of feeling the nature and letting some glimpses of its essence become part of the painting always fascinates me, and I find it in several other artists that I admire. Of course in de Kooning’s abstract landscapes, but also in Per Kirkeby and Bernd Koberling.

Another remarkable film about a painter is Basquiat, directed by Julian Schnabel, himself one of the most important painters of the eighties and a good friend of the late Basquiat.

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