By Annette Hinkle
While exposing children to great works of art can be a marvelous educational tool in and of itself, there’s nothing quite like learning by doing to take enthusiasm and understanding of a subject to a whole other level. For some time now, youngsters who tour the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center in Springs as part of a school group or while on summer vacation have been invited to try their hand at making poured paintings on the lawn, just like those of Jackson Pollock the famed abstract expressionist who once lived there.
While not every child is fortunate to have an opportunity to create art at Pollock’s house, “The Jackson Pollock Box” a new book and art kit just out by Cider Mill Press offers young people everywhere the chance to learn more about the artist and experiment with the unique techniques he perfected while living here on the East End.
The box, which is covered by a reproduction of “Number One, 1949,” comes with a brush, canvas, paper and a selection of squeeze bottles filled with liquid paints similar to those that Pollock would have used. Helen Harrison, director of the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center wrote the book that accompanies the box. In it, she offers details of Pollock’s life, including his early artistic influences, his working methods, various critics’ takes on his work, and his relationship with Lee Krasner, because, Harrison notes, “you can’t understand him without knowing something about her.”
She adds that the book doesn’t shy away from the more difficult aspects of Pollock’s life.
“He was an alcoholic for his whole life and suffered from depression and mood swings,” says Harrison. “Those things went away in the studio. He said that ‘Paintings’ not the problem. It’s what to do when I’m not painting.’”
Though it is geared toward ages 14 and up, largely because of the content of the book, Harrison feels that children as young as 10 will enjoy creating their own Pollock inspired art. Directions for five projects, all based on Pollock’s working methods, are detailed in the book — from visualization of a mood or feeling, to the creation of gesture drawings, a collage piece, or painting on glass (as Pollock did during Hans Namuth’s 1950 film of the artist at work — though for the kit, the “glass” is actually the plastic on the front of the box).
Harrison notes that it young artists aren’t happy with their results, they are encouraged to reuse those parts of the project. After all, she says, Krasner and Pollock never threw anything away, and frequently reused failed drawings by cutting them up as collage pieces.
“The art is so participatory and physical,” says Harrison. “You really manipulate the materials in a dynamic way. There are plenty of art kits where you get a paint kit and brush and do your own. But this gives you a different approach.”
That different approach goes to the heart of understanding Pollock’s motivation and what he was looking to capture in his own work.
“It’s about painting intangibles,” explains Harrison. “In traditional painting you represent something— a still life or a face. But this is not about that at all. It’s totally different. You make a visual equivalent of something you can’t see or touch, or feel — a mood, sound or experience.”
Harrison explains that while Pollock found liquid paint was the vehicle that ultimately took him where he needed to go in his work, another artist might just as easily have found a different way.
“Pollock said, ‘Technique is just a means of arriving at a statement,’” says Harrison. “It was the statement that interested Pollock. The materials are just the instrument — the result was what mattered.”
Though the art box will be distributed across the country, because both Pollock and Krasner’s art work was so intimately connected to where they lived, Harrison felt it was important to include a section in the book about their home and studio.
“The fact they both had their break-throughs as artists when they moved to Springs tells you something about how important the environment was for them as artists, not just people,” explains Harrison. “It was an important break from the city, it opened their eyes aesthetically and took them in new directions which was crucial.”
Helen Harrison will be at Guild Hall (158 Main Street, East Hampton) on Saturday, December 18 at 11 a.m. to sign copies of “The Jackson Pollock Box.”