Ed Harris’ Pollock (2000) The Man Behind Drip Painting

Who was the man behind the term Drip Painting, also part of the so-called Action Painting? Did you ever wonder? Before I watched the movie Pollock I was always awed by his paintings, their power, their originality and how easily we could attribute them to the painter. Now I am infuriated. What an asshole.

Be it as it may, this is an excellent movie, showing the struggles of a painter against the backdrop of New York’s art scene in the 40s. We see all the important people of the time, Peggy Guggenheim, Willem de Kooning, Lee Krasner. During that time, important art mostly came from Europe. If it hadn’t been for de Kooning and Pollock, the American art would never have become as important as it finally did.

If it hadn’t been for Lee Krasner, what would Pollock have become? Nothing, I would say and that is what infuriated me. The guy was a mean alcoholic who went on drinking sprees that lasted days and maybe weeks until he woke up somewhere, anywhere, shivering, sweating and without any specific memory of what had happened. Into this mess enters Lee Krasner, a young g aspiring painter herself, immediately she sees Pollock’s genius and does everything to help him. She moves in with him, takes care of him, phones and invites journalists and galleries and rich people.

After a few years they get married. In order to help him stay sober, she convinces him to move to the country where they seem to be happy at first. It is here that he develops his art and goes from abstract expressionism to action painting and later explores the technique of drip painting for which he is so famous. It is fascinating to watch him paint and Ed Harris does an extremely good job.

Unfortunately Pollock doesn’t realize how blessed he is and after being sober for two years he starts to drink again. Only worse this time. He also begins an affair with a much younger woman. After a day of heavy drinking he drives her and her best friend to a party and crashes the car on the way home. Pollock and the friend die.

We never really get know why he is drinking. He just does. And the more Lee Krasner tries to keep him away from it, the more he drinks. It’s common knowledge that no alcoholic will just change because you threaten to leave him. You have to do it. She never does. It doesn’t mean he would have stopped if she had left but to simply threaten him didn’t change one thing and she suffered as well. Apart from a fascination and admiration for his painting, I have no clue what she saw in him. We don’t see them in many intimate moments. They never seem to talk. The Pollock we see in this movie may have been a great painter but he as a very unlikable, selfish character.

Lucky for Lee Krasner she wasn’t in the car, when he crashed it. She lived another thirty years and did her best work after his death.

I really admired her for saying no to his plea to have a child. She correctly saw that this would leave her in charge of two people. Apart from that most of the time they were broke as it took quite a long time until his art was recognized for what it was.

Pollock is a very esthetic movie with a great score featuring jazz from the 40s, Benny Goodman, Billy Holliday, which makes for great atmosphere. All in all it’s extremely well done, highly watchable and interesting.

8 thoughts on “Ed Harris’ Pollock (2000) The Man Behind Drip Painting

  1. I just added this to my Netflix list yesterday – and here you are reviewing it! Funny. I’m curious about seeing the painting process, but I’m not overly interested in Pollock himself.

    • What a coincidence. They managed quite well to show the painting process. It’s fascinating to watch him. Like in a trance. And he did paint as well when he was sober as when he was drinking, towards the end it did rather deteriorate through the drinking. Just to say he couldn’t have taken it as an excuse. I am curious to see what you will think of it.

    • I think I can actually feel the movement. It’s very rhythmical, and very organised even though it doesn’t look it. It has a trance like quality and a very explosive energy. It did remind me of the technique the Haitian Houngans use when they paint their vévés. Which is very inetersting as well and extremely difficult. They use some sort of a powder. The interesting with Pollock is this movement, he had to calculate exactly how much paint he had to use, and how much it had to be diluted. I also like the texture of the paintings, they are so uneven. Just look at the painting I added, how balanced it is. When you imagine how he did it, with dripping paint it is artful. I think the best way to describe it is to say it is movement put on canavas.

  2. There was recently a discussion on Litlove’s blog about artists and their muses, and this reminds me of it. I think sometimes it is almost better not to know too much about an artist’s private life as they are often not in any way exemplary characters! Still, I think I understand the fascination about a work and wanting to know more about the person creating it! Maybe I would want to read more about Lee Krasner, though!

    • It’s always somewhat dangerous if the person is not up to our moral standards to learn something about their life. But with an author it’s probably stronger even than with a painter. I thought that Lee Krasner was by far the more interesting character. On the other hand I think she would say he was an inspiration for her. She saw his genius before anyone else did. I was just astonished when I saw all the domestic scenes, cooking, making breakfast, she did all of it. I don’t understand why women often do that, why they take over the whole nurturing part, the housework etc. It took guts to say no to his wish to have children. It’s such a shame how he treated her towards the end. We could probably use the term co-dependency… She really was co-dependent.

  3. How interesting! I have read critical appreciations of Pollock’s work, but never anything about Pollock himself. Very much the image of the tortured, self-destructive genius, then. Although I have this bell ringing distantly in the back of my brain – I’m pretty sure John Updike’s novel, Seek My Face, is about the action painters, but I can’t quite bring the details to mind… Ah yes, just checked up on the novel, it’s fiction, but based on the real lives of the action painters and the main character, Hope, is essentially Lee Krasner. Danielle is quite right to point her out as a muse; she is a perfect example.

    • He was extremely self-destructive and therefore poison for those around him as well. We never really get to know why he had such a hard time coping with life. We are left to interpret… Thanks so much for mentioning Updike’s novel. I have only read a very few of his books and am not at all familiar with this one. I would like to read it. Lee Krasner is an interesting woman. She still stood her ground even though she didn’t leave him and I guess it was just a matter of time. If find her quite admirable.

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