Number 1, 1948. Oil and enamel on canvas, 68" x 8' 8" (172.7 x 264.2 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Purchase ©1998 Pollock-Krasner Foundation/Artists Right Society (ARS), New York

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AH: A can or a tube?

JC: A can. And pouring with that. What this allows you to do is make an infinite line. You can just go on and on and on. So these thin lines give one great control over the width because you can come down closer to the canvas and expand the width, slow down the pour so that you apply more paint and you get a slightly thicker line. Come back up and you make it thinner. I thought this was a brilliant insight, then we went back and looked at the Namuth film again with him painting on the glass, and gee, there he is with a can with a hole punched in it. And that was encouraging because it, in a sense, validated what we were doing. Once you have to try to achieve an effect that you've seen, there are actually a limited number of ways to get there. Now there are also these very impastoey kinds of lines on canvases. A classic example is our Number 1, 1948. These lines are made by squeezing out a tube of traditional artist's oil paint. And so again, going back and just opening up the tube of paint and squeezing it, there's not enough control. One does not re-create the kinds of lines that Pollock was getting. You get a big fat glob of paint and it's just not right. Clearly, what he did there was he also punched it. Just took the tube of paint and punched a small hole in it, which then gave him better control and a finer line to squeeze out. And indeed, he apparently told Tony Smith, I believe, that he could squeeze an entire tube of paint in one go, and he was really proud of that as a really manly thing. Having tried to do that myself, I'm impressed.

AH: Have you been using any kind of new technologies on this project?

JC: Yes. Some new to us here in the Museum and some that at least right now not too many other people around the world are using. However some of the most interesting things that we've found in terms of technical examinations have been using very traditional things like X-rays and ultraviolet light. X-rays to show some of the underlying layers in more thickly painted paintings. Ultraviolet light is a very useful tool to differentiate different pigments.

AH: Why is that new?

JC: Looking at art, or for that matter many things, with infrared sensitive cameras is not new but using it on abstract paintings is not often done. This is because the traditional use of this technology is to discover underdrawings, the preparation of the compostion by the artist. In most cases these are readily discernible subjects. Separating an abstract underdrawing or painting from the abstract final composition takes quite a bit more work, but it is very exciting too. We are also trying to develop a variation on this technology that could help us make these distinctions. Essentially what we do is we image the work many times, each time using a slightly different part of the infrared spectrum. By then using computer image processing we hope to specifically separate different paints within the image and relate that to Pollock's development of the compositon. It is still too early to know for certain, but our first efforts have shown great promise, so I hope we will have the time and resources to fully exploit the potential.

AH: Full Fathom Five (1947) is out in the conservation studio and you've talked about the figure that was originally laid down in that painting, something you can see using X-ray. Could you speak about that?

JC: When you look at the surface of a Pollock, it is very abstracted. First of all, it takes a fair amount of dedicated looking to begin to see what his shorthand is for any sort of figuration that might be going on in these works. But when we can peer beneath the surface to see the underlying construction of the work, there you begin to see that the final surface organization is actually pretty much laid down earlier on.

AH: They seem like parabolas, sort of mathematical constructions--even though they're on a flat surface--of a three-dimensional space. I never think of them as being flat, really, because of the way that the colors and the shapes interact.

JC: He's very conscious of all these things. Sometimes he uses a standard white or beige canvas, other times he uses darkly colored canvases, which he sometimes created himself by laying down a dark ground and painting on that. Other times he buys the canvas, probably some sort of an awning or sailcloth material, already colored. These are conscious choices. It's not that they ran out of white canvas and so he went for red. No. The interaction of the colors that he uses are very different on these different canvases. So, for instance, a white that is applied to a white canvas is going to sink in and blend and not pop forward the same way that it does on a red canvas. He knows that, and he's working with that, so that the dramatic contrast is going to be stronger on these darker ground pictures. These are all conscious. It's probably really prosaic to say so, but I'm not sure that anybody really has yet. One of the things Carol and I are really working hard to establish is how different these paintings appear to us from when Pollock painted them. This is right at the heart of what conservators do--determine as best we can the original appearance, the original intentions of the artist. So, have the paints changed; has the tone of the canvas changed to any discernible degree? If so, do we have a way of knowing how much? On the paintings that he applied a coating, is there discoloration? All of these can have profound impact on the appearance of the work and thus ultimately on any discussion of Pollock that is based on looking at the art.

 
 
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