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Essay

Paint Like the Masters: Lesson 1, Jackson Pollock

No expensive courses or materials are required. All you need do is study these instructions diligently.  Within the hour, you’ll be able to produce something fully the equal of anything the old master ever did.

Before starting, carefully line up everything you will need.  Many a promising project has had to be abandoned, mid-stream, for want of one or more critical materials.  Don’t let this happen to you.  Be prepared!

          Required materials and tools:  One dinner plate full of spaghetti and red clam sauce, well heaped.  Be sure to put at least one tablespoon of oil in the cooking water for the pasta, so it will slide better at the appropriate moment.  Grated cheese, while not required, is a welcome addition.  One plastic table, almost any size or shape.  (Plastic is recommended over wood because it can be cleaned more easily).  One smallish canvas, 8.5”x11” or 11”x14”.  A second canvas of any size you like.  Epoxy glue.  Cotton rags or paper towels.  Camera.

          Optional tools and equipment:  Most artists will want to use one or more of the following.  Mason’s trowel (preferred) or small garden trowel, putty knife, or kitchen tablespoon.  One or more butter knives. One dinner fork.  Cotton work gloves or disposable Latex gloves.  If late-stage edging work is desired, a small ice pick or, if that is not available, a corkscrew.  Chef’s apron.

          Procedure:  Serve up the spaghetti and clam sauce in the kitchen, making sure that the plate is fully heaped.  Maintain a steady grip on the plate as you bring it to the table.  As you are placing the plate on the table, allow your wrists to twist slightly inward, toward you.  This should be a relatively subtle motion; you don’t, after all, want to lose the entire plate full of pasta. The right kind of twist will send anywhere from one-sixth to one-third of the contents of the plate onto the table, away from you.

          Whatever else you do, do not stop to clean up the table before you eat.  The material should be taken directly from the table, not from a secondary location. And it will be far easier to work with once it has cooled.  Most important, seeing the stuff lying on the table directly in front of you should put you in a good frame of mind for creative endeavour, assuming you look at it in a positive light.

          Granted, it isn’t uncommon, particularly if you aren’t used to creating art in this way, to feel a wave of nausea at the sight of congealing food. My advice is to look away for a second, and then tell yourself this really isn’t congealing food; it’s material required for the creation of a Great Work of Art–and go on eating.  But if, after two or three tries, you’re still unable to convince yourself, you should not attempt to continue. Jackson Pollock isn’t for the squeamish. With all due respect, you will probably find one of our later lessons in The Eighteenth-Century Miniature or Early Canadian Landscapes more to your liking. Clean off the table and send out for a pizza.

          Eat at a normal pace. When you’ve finished, don’t bother washing your hands. That would only be a waste of soap and hot water.  Do, however, don your chef’s apron if you feel you need to do so, to protect your clothing. Apply the Epoxy liberally to your canvas, using cotton rags or paper towels to ensure it’s spread fairly evenly across the surface.  Once this is done, put the cooled spaghetti dish onto the canvas with a trowel, putty knife, or tablespoon.  If a fairly level surface is desired, use butter knives to spread the spaghetti dish evenly across the canvas. If a more three-dimensional effect is desired, use the trowel along with a fork or tablespoon, or heap it into peaks using the putty knife.

          You can also create your masterpiece “bareback” (i.e., without implements) by simply slathering the pasta dish onto the canvas and spreading it around with a gloved hand.  This will make for a more sensual if perhaps less aesthetically precise experience.  If you choose this option, it’s important to work fairly quickly; too long a delay may mean that the food congeals too much for you to be able to work with it at all easily without the aid of implements.

          When you’ve completed the work to your liking, clean up the work area, and then yourself, and allow the work to set for at least 30 minutes.  Then take a picture of your magnum opus, and print it out if you have full-colour printing capacity.  If you don’t, you will have to send an electronic copy to a commercial print shop, from which you can pick up the completed print at a later date.

          Once you have your print in hand, mount it on the second canvas, using more Epoxy, and then put the work up on your wall.  You are now a full-fledged modern artist, with all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto.  Congratulations!  At this point, you may start trying to market your work. But if you feel you need more practice, you can attempt a second “painting,” this time using a slightly different medium, such as Shepherd’s Pie or roast turkey with cranberry sauce, gravy, mashed turnips, peas, and mashed potatoes.  Whatever you do, don’t throw away the original canvas.  It could be valuable as an example of Performance Art some time down the road.  Keep it in a cool, dark place at least 50 feet away from the kitchen, and put out several good strong rat traps nearby just to be on the safe side.

          In most situations, the above way of creating a Jackson Pollock-style work can supplant the time-honoured method, which was to take a plate full of leftover food and drop the plate onto a well-Epoxied canvas with some force from a height of four to six feet, leaving the food exactly where it landed.  Most obviously, the approach suggested here means less breakage and far less mess to clean off the floor.  Secondly, and even more important, this new approach allows room for the artist’s intention to be displayed, while remaining true to the original spirit of Jackson Pollock.  I have no doubt that in the fullness of time, this method of creating a modern Pollock work will be recognized as at least as great an advance on the previously-accepted technique as laparoscopy is on conventional “big-slash” gall bladder surgery.

          Bon appétit!

Copyright © Jon Peirce, 2020

2 replies on “Paint Like the Masters: Lesson 1, Jackson Pollock”

Thanks! I’ve been thinking about this subject for a long time–the little incident actually pulled it all together!

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