The title piqued my interest. How were these two artists, polar opposites in style, connected?
I searched for a used copy, it arrived a few days later and I started reading that night.
Tom and Jack The Intertwined Lives of Thomas Hart Benton and Jackson Pollock
This book was written by Henry Adams, a professor of art studies and author of several books about artists including Thomas Eakins, and George Caleb Bingham. In this book, Adams forges an artistic lineage that begins with Rodin and includes Matisse, Cezanne’s use of warm and color color, a Michelangelo sculpture, and a color theory developed by Percival Tudor Hart.
A winding journey that begins in the early 1900’s and ends with Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings in the 1950’s. It is a fascinating tale that begins with a young artist named Morgan Russell who through Gertrude Stein was introduced to Matisse and began his art studies. Interestingly, Matisse encouraged the study of sculpture and Morgan was introduced to Michelangelo’s sculpture
“The Dying Slave” which heavily influenced his work.
Fortunes led Morgan to Cezanne and
Picasso where he developed a method that was underpinned by the rhythm of Michelangelo’s sculpture, cubist tenets of capturing movement and energy through fractured planes and a color
theory that proposed using color in chords similar to musical notation. From there Morgan meets and befriends Stanton Macdonald Wright and the two develop a movement called Synchromism. Benton is briefly introduced here as a fringe element of the movement who wholeheartedly believed in its principle of rhythm, however, Benton did not stay in Paris and ultimately developed as an artist in America. He wanted to produce art that:
From there it is a rollicking tale of Morgan and Wright as they criss cross the Atlantic in search of a market for their art and Synchromism. A tale of bored millionaires, political currents and opportunists.
The book is presented in two parts, part 1 explains Thomas Hart Benton’s rise to popularity and how Synchromism influenced his work, accounts of his teaching method and how Jackson Pollock began as a student of Hart’s becoming a part of Hart’s family for several years.
Part 2 continues with Pollock’s life story and development as an artist which culminated in the drip paintings. Along the way we are introduced to a myriad of people who had contact with Pollack, most fleeting, only a few enduring, Lee Krasner, Hans Hoffman, Clement Greenburg, and Peggy Guggenheim are a few. All of these encounters are given a thorough history and at some point I began to lose the thread of the book. Some of the detours became a little tiresome and I found myself skimming pages.
Finally, on page 270, we get back to some explanation of how Pollock returned to fundamental compositional methods taught by Hart. The chapter “ Hollow and Bump” ties together the author’s thesis of Benton’s influence on Pollack. Benton placed heavy emphasis on rhythm and that is what Pollock returned to when he entered the mature phase of his work, which the author
contends is the foundation that gives structure to seemingly random application of paint. Adams points out figures can be seen in the drip paintings and a rhythmic pattern does present itself upon study.
I enjoyed this book for the insight it gives on the workings of the art scene in Paris during the early decades of the last century and the fascinating way in which artists pass their knowledge on to younger generations of artists and how basic principles of art are interpreted by artists from Michelangelo to Pollock.