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The myth of Jackson Pollock has the artist working feverishly in isolation in his Long Island studio, making his big breakthrough: the abstract drip paintings. Pollock, legend has it, ignited the first wave of Abstract Expressionism in the late 1940s by withdrawing to his barn and flinging and pouring household enamels onto large canvases tacked to the floor. Goodbye, easels, stretcher bars, and traditional composition; hello, singular American genius.
The truth, of course, is more complicated than that. This month at the Phillips Collection, curator Klaus Ottmann unpacks close personal and creative ties between Pollock; his East Hampton neighbor and patron, Alfonso Ossorio; and their mutual friend, French Art Brut pioneer Jean Dubuffet. “Angels, Demons, and Savages” features 53 paintings and works on paper from the early 1950s by all three and promises to shed light on how Surrealism, rough figuration, and European influences fed Pollock’s art.
Ossorio is the least well known of the trio. He collected hundreds of works by both Pollock and Dubuffet, but he was also a painter in his own right—first making wild, expressionistic pictures with religious undertones and later using found objects to create assemblages he dubbed “congregations.”
All three had their demons. For Pollock, it was alcoholism and, very likely, bipolar disorder. Dubuffet became fascinated by outsider art—paintings by the insane and institutionalized, which he mimicked in crude pictures made with paint, rocks, and sand. And Ossorio was haunted by both his Catholic upbringing and by his stint painting gruesome surgeries as a medical illustrator during the war.
“Angels, Demons, and Savages” promises to create a more complete picture of a brief dialogue in the history of modern art—a give-and-take cut short by Pollock’s death in an alcohol-related car crash in 1956. $10-12.