Abstract Expressionist New York

Jackson Pollock. Easter and the Totem. 1953 473

Oil on canvas, 6' 10 1/8" x 58" (208.6 x 147.3 cm). Gift of Lee Krasner in memory of Jackson Pollock. © 2022 Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Curator, Ann Temkin: The Museum of Modern Art is a central character in the story of these Abstract Expressionist years.

Director, Glenn Lowry: In 1951, the Museum held a retrospective of Henri Matisse's work.

Ann Temkin: When you look at this painting by Jackson Pollock, made in 1953, I think it's impossible to deny that Matisse was someone with whom Pollock was trying to make a connection in his work at this time. In these last few years of his life he was trying to figure out where to go from the drip paintings.

One of the great connections I see between Pollock and Matisse in this painting is the use of the color black. Matisse wrote a beautiful essay about black, and he wrote of it as a color not of darkness but a color of light. And here you see the feeling of black as something vibrant and powerful, not by any means as merely an absence of color.

It does seem like it's an Easter Island figure at the far left of the painting, the big, tall vertical form. And I feel that Pollock was looking not only to Matisse but to the artists of non-Western, non-modern cultures for a way to get back to the essence of art, for a way to get back to what really mattered.

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