Spontaneity in the work of Jackson Pollock, Charlie Parker, and Jack Kerouac

During the decade following World War Two, a body of artistic work was created that clearly articulated for the first time, a distinctly American aesthetic, independent of European models. This is not to say that celebrated works like The Great Gatsby, The Sun Also Rises, Appalachian Spring and Roy Harrisʼ Third Symphony are not recognized as American masterpieces; but their American characteristics are expressed through content, rather than form or methods of production. Fitzgerald and Hemingway all furthered their apprenticeship in Europe during the 1920s while Copland and Harris studied in Paris with Boulanger. It remained for the next generation of the avant garde, living for the most part in New York, to create original schools through the modes of Abstract Expressionism, the new chromatic jazz of Be Bop, and the literature of the Beats. The singly most important characteristic of the new American expression was the central role played by spontaneity and improvisation yielding works of astonishing vibrant surface detail.

The emphasis on the spontaneous as an alternative to the careful and rational reflected larger cultural and philosophical issues. In seeking a subjective, existential view of reality, honesty, authenticity, were prized over the objective world view, process over product. Whether expressed in gesture painting, spontaneous bop prosody, or the chromatic flights of bebop, the emphasis was on the experience, rejecting the academic craftsmanship of revision as antithetical to the glorification of the now.This emphasis plus the incorporation of elements from African and Native American sources were interpreted as an attack on the privileged hegemony of the Anglo-American academy. Beat writers were ridiculed by proponents of the New Criticism who vaunted T.S. Eliot as their model. Kerouacʼs spontaneous prose was dismissed as “mere typing” by Truman Capote. While mainstream journals such as Life magazine devoted some attention to abstract art, it was more often of a patronizing nature, referring to Pollock as “Jack the Dripper”. The new jazz faced opposition even within its own ranks, even prompting a revival of New Orleans music, now called “Dixieland”. Louis Armstrong dismissed bop as making about as much sense as “Chinese music”. So with its fusion of modernist complexity with vernacular) or “street”) immediacy the new art represented a third alternative to European elitism and mainstream pop culture. In an even larger context, the avant garde of the late 1940s represented a reaction to Auschwitz, Hiroshima, and the Gulag – the latter having a dampening impact on the leftist Communist idealism of the 30s. Whether implicit in words or explicit in painting and music, the avant garde became a central voice in the new bohemian counterculture criticism of United States political and corporate globalization with its strategy of cold war xenophobia and domestic consumerism. The full effect of this will not be fully realized until the mid 1960s when the civil rights movement and opposition to the war in Viet Nam galvanized many to question the policies of the government.

 

Jackson Pollock photographed by Arnold Newman for LIFE Magazine, 1949

 

Charlie Parker, at the Carnegie Hall, New York. Photo by William P. Gottlieb, 1947

 

Jack Kerouac in his Long Island home displaying one of the scrolls on which he composed his books, unidentified photographer, 1964.

 

Three artists, Jackson Pollock (1912-1956), Charlie Parker (1920-1955), and Jack Kerouac (1922-1969), play a central role in the emerging post war avant garde, each incorporating elements of spontaneity to their arts. The outline of their biographies shows many similarities. Roughly of the same generation, each were born and raised in provincial settings, Pollock in Cody, Wyoming, Parker in Kansas City, Missouri, and Kerouac in Lowell, Massachusetts. Each came from working class blue collar maternally dominated families, with dysfunctional (Pollock and Kerouac) or nonexistent (Parker) relationships with their fathers, Pollock and Kerouac becoming highly misogynistic. Each produced their most important work in New York beginning around 1945, where they all habituated the same Lower East Side and Greenwich Village neighborhoods, often hanging out in the same bars and coffee houses. All three experienced difficult personal lives, cut short from substance abuse resulting in early deaths (Pollock at age 44. Parker at 35, and Kerouac at 47). What is of great interest is the mutual interest and influence among the artistic intelligentsia of the period. Much of Kerouacʼs innovative spontaneous prose sketching achieved most notable in Visions of Cody and The Subterraneans were heavily indebted to his sophisticated knowledge of jazz. Several of the “choruses” in Mexico City Blues are profiles of Parker, Lester Young, and other musicians. Lee Krasner, Pollockʼs wife, has documented the painterʼs interest in jazz as well as classical music. Night Clubs, such as the Five Spot, doubled as jazz venues as well as art galleries.

 

 

A Pollock painting illustrates the cover of Ornette Colemanʼs, Free Jazz, released in 1959. Some artists worked in several disciplines, most notable saxophonist Larry Rivers who became a prominent painter, composer-novelist Paul Bowles, pianist-poet Cecil Taylor, and poet-painter-composer Weldon Kees. Poetic recitation with jazz, begun with Kenneth Patchen and Charlie Mingus included performances at the Village Vanguard with Kerouac who recorded with tenor men Zoot Sims and Al Cohn as well as recited on television with Steve Allen backing him up on piano. The image of these performances, with their “beards,bongos and beatniks” became simplistic cultural clichés in the late 1950s. perpetuated by the mainstream media in an attempt to trivialize and ridicule the movement. To reiterate the central thesis of this argument, the main thread that unites this rich period of American creativity is the use of improvisation for the purpose of creating art characterized by great emotional and intense expression.

 

American Zeitgeist: Spontaneity in the work of Jackson Pollock, Charlie Parker, and Jack Kerouac
Randall Snyder
(Excerpt)

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The Elegant Portraiture of Timothy Greenfield Sanders

“For many photographers, fashion is the ultimate. But I’m not a fashion photographer. I’m a portrait artist who shoots fashion”

Timothy Greenfield Sanders

 
 

Yves Saint Laurent

 
 

Pauline Trigère

 
 

Sonia Rykiel

 
 

Rei Kawakubo

 
 

Todd Oldham

 
 

Jean Muir

 
 

Elsa Peretti

 
 

Paloma Picasso

 
 

Carolina Herrera

 
 

Carmen Dell’Orefice

 
 

Oscar De la Renta

 
 

Jil Sander

 
 

Vera Wang

 
 

Donna Karan

 
 

Naomi Campbell

 
 

Christy Turlington

 
 

Andre Leon Talley

 
 

Liz Tilberis

 
 

Anna Wintour

 
 

Simon Doonan

 
 

Iké Udé

 
 

Hamish Bowles

 
 

Betsey Johnson

 
 

Miguel Adrover

 
 

Patrick Robinson

 
 

Zac Posen

 
 

Michael Kors

 
 

Narciso Rodríguez

 
 

Calvin Klein

 
 

Tommy Hilfiger

 
 

Isaac Mizrahi

Sting in The Desert

هدي مدة طويلة
Hadaee mada tawila (It’s been a long time)
وانا نحوس انا وعلا غزالتي
Wa ana nahos ana wahala ghzalti (that I wanted to be with my beauty)
وانا نحوس انا وعلا غزالتي
Wa ana nahos ana wahala ghzalti
وانا نحوس انا وعلا غزالتي
Wa ana nahos ana wahala ghzalti

عمري فيك انتيا
Omry feek antia (you are my life)
ما غيرانتيا
Ma ghair antia (no one else)
ما غيرانتيا
Ma ghair antia

 
 

 
 

Riding a wave of pre-9-11 interest in Latin and Arabic cultures, Sting released Desert Rose, a single from Brand New Day (1999), his sixth solo album. The song peaked at #3 in Switzerland, #4 Italy, #15 in the UK Singles Chart and #17 in the US Billboard Hot 100.

The lyrics of the song are inspired by the Frank Herbert‘s novel, Dune, of which Sting is a fan. Sting also played the villainous Feyd Rautha in the 1984 film adaptation directed by David Lynch. Both the book and the song feature the Arabic language, as well as imagery involving moisture and desert plant life.

The song is noted for Sting’s duet performance with Algerian raï singer Cheb Mami, creating a distinct world music feel to the song. It also has a popular music video featuring Sting taking a trip through the Mojave Desert in a Jaguar S-Type and then going to a nightclub in Las Vegas to perform the song with Cheb Mami. After shooting the video, Sting’s manager Miles Copeland III approached a music licensing maven, Lloyd Simon, to work with Jaguar on a collaboration, and the auto company featured the video in their prominent television advertisements during the year 2000.

 
 

 
 

Tea in the Sahara“, included in Synchronicity (1983) The fifth and final album by The Police, is a quiet, eerie song about three women who meet their death in the desert; the song is based on a story from Paul Bowles‘ novel The Sheltering Sky (1949). That novel of post-colonial alienation and existential despair was adapted by Bernardo Bertolucci into a 1990 film with the same title starring Debra Winger and John Malkovich.

Twombly & Rauschenberg

During the late forties Cy Twombly‘s main interests were German Expressionism, the Dada movement, Kurt Schwitters‘ as well as Chaim Soutine‘s work. Saw for the first time reproductions of works by Jean Dubuffet and Alberto Giacometti which greatly impressed him.

Twombly arrived in Manhattan in 1950 while the New York School painting of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning was in full swing. That same year he continued his studies at the Art Students League in New York City on a tuition scholarship. During the second semester met Robert Rauschenburg who was the first person of his own age to share the same interests and preoccupations as an artist. Upon Robert Rauschenberg’s encouragement, Twombly joined him for the 1951–1952 sessions at Black Mountain College near Asheville, North Carolina – a liberal refuge, a site of free experimentation and exchange in a nation growing increasingly conservative during the Cold War. Among the influential teachers present at this time were Charles Olson, Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell and John Cage. Building on the freedom afforded by the previous generation, the younger artists emphasised libidinal energy integrated through experience.

For eight months spanning 1952–1953 Twombly and Rauschenberg travelled through Europe and north Africa, joined for a while by the writer Paul Bowles. Upon returning to New York, Rauschenberg set up the Fulton Street studio that Twombly sometimes shared. Eleanor Ward invited the two artists to exhibit at her Stable Gallery.

 

Cy Twombly and Robert Rauschenberg. Robert Rauschenberg, Venice, 1952

 

Portraits of Cy Twombly by his colleague Robert Rauschenberg