Pollock Meets Japanese Poetry in Collage

Jackson Pollock, Collage and Oil, c. 1951, oil, ink, gouache and paper collage on canvas

Jackson Pollock, Collage and Oil, c. 1951, oil, ink, gouache and paper collage on canvas; overall: 50 in x 35 in; 127 cm x 88.9 cm. Acquired 1958. The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C.

Jackson Pollock began making collages in 1943 at the invitation of Peggy Guggenheim, who organized an international Exhibition of Collage at her gallery Art of This Century. The Phillips’s Collage and Oil, executed in 1951, is probably one of Pollock’s last collages.

According to Head of Conservation Elizabeth Steele, Pollock placed torn pieces of Japanese paper and Western paper that he had first painted with ink or black paint and a pink ochre gouache on top of canvas in layers of red earth, pink, and black. After gluing the torn paper sections onto the painted canvas, Pollock splattered the entire composition with an Indian yellow paint and white gouache.

Collages, or pictures assembled from a variety of materials, have an ancient history. In the 12th century, Japanese calligraphers copied poems on sheets of paper that were composed of irregularly shaped pieces of delicately tinted papers. Tiny flowers, birds, and stars made from gold and silver paper were sprinkled over the composition. When the torn or cut edges of the papers were brushed with ink, their wavy contours represented mountains, rivers, or clouds. The calligrapher selected from such papers the one most appropriate to the spirit of a particular poem, which he then wrote out in an elegant hand.

Example of 12th-century Japanese calligraphy on collage paper.

Example of 12th-century Japanese calligraphy on collage paper.

Director’s Desk: Art that Startles

April is poetry month. I love Benjamin Britten’s Hymn to Saint Cecilia written to a marvelous text by W.H. Auden, one of my favorite poets. (I recently enjoyed a performance by the King’s College Choir.) The refrain to the patron saint of musicians reads thus:

Blessed Cecilia, appear in visions/ To all musicians, appear and inspire/ Translated Daughter, come down and startle/ Composing mortals with immortal fire.

It seems to me this text applies to all the arts. The word ‘startle’ is perfect. Art knocks us out of the everyday, jolts us into a realm of possibility. Isn’t that why we love a visit to a museum like the Phillips?

Dorothy Kosinski, Director

For National Poetry Month, Poesia e Fotografia Part II

As part of the 2013 Year of Italian Culture in the United States, the Phillips has partnered with the Embassy of Italy to present an exhibition that pairs contemporary Italian photographs with verses by celebrated Italian poets. On view at the Phillips through April 28, the show is complemented by posters featuring its photography/poem pairings on city buses. In honor of National Poetry Month, we bring you a selection from this series. Read Part I.

Next Stop Italy installation view by Joshua Navarro. Artworks left to right: Paolo Ventura's "February 9" (2012), Mario Cresci's "Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna (2010), and Renato D'Agostin's "Paris" (2005).

Next Stop Italy installation view by Joshua Navarro. Artworks left to right: Paolo Ventura’s “February 9″ (2012), Mario Cresci’s “Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna (2010), and Renato D’Agostin’s “Paris” (2005).

Paolo Ventura (b. 1968, Milan), February 9, 2012 

“Spesso il male di vivere ho incontrato” (1925)

Bene non seppi, fuori del prodigio
che schiude la divina Indifferenza:
era la statua nella sonnolenza
del meriggio, e la nuvola, e il falco alto levato.

“Again and again I have seen life’s evil” (1925)

I have known no good except the miracle
that reveals the divine Indifference:
it was the statue in the drowsy trance
of noon, and the cloud, the cruising falcon.

Eugenio Montale (translation by Jonathan Galassi, Charles Wright, and David Young)

Mario Cresci (b. 1942, Chiavari), Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna, 2010

“Supplica a mia madre” (1964)

È difficile dire con parole di figlio
ciò a cui nel cuore ben poco assomiglio.
Tu sei la sola al mondo che sa, del mio cuore,
ciò che è stato sempre, prima d’ogni altro amore.
Per questo devo dirti ciò ch’è orrendo conoscere:
è dentro la tua grazia che nasce la mia angoscia.
Sei insostituibile. Per questo è dannata
alla solitudine la vita che mi hai data.
E non voglio esser solo. Ho un’infinita fame
d’amore, dell’amore di corpi senza anima.
Perché l’anima è in te, sei tu, ma tu
sei mia madre e il tuo amore è la mia schiavitù:
ho passato l’infanzia schiavo di questo senso
alto, irrimediabile, di un impegno immenso.
Era l’unico modo per sentire la vita,
l’unica tinta, l’unica forma: ora è finita.
Sopravviviamo: ed è la confusione
di una vita rinata fuori dalla ragione.
Ti supplico, ah, ti supplico: non voler morire.
Sono qui, solo, con te, in un futuro aprile . . .

“Prayer to my mother” (1964)

It’s so hard to say in a son’s words
what I’m so little like in my heart.
Only you in all the world know what my
heart always held, before any other love.
So, I must tell you something terrible to know:
From within your kindness my anguish grew.
You’re irreplaceable. And because you are,
the life you gave me is condemned to loneliness.
And I don’t want to be alone. I have an infinite
hunger for love, love of bodies without souls.
For the soul is inside you, it is you, but
you’re my mother and your love’s my slavery:
My childhood I lived a slave to this lofty
incurable sense of an immense obligation.
It was the only way to feel life,
the unique form, sole color; now, it’s over.
We survive, in the confusion
of a life reborn outside reason.
I pray you, oh, I pray: Do not hope to die.
I’m here, alone, with you, in a future April . . .

Pier Paolo Pasolini (translation by Norman MacAfee with Luciano Martinengo)

Renato D’Agostin (b. 1983, Venice), Paris, 2005

“Mattina” (1917)

M’illumino
d’immenso

“Morning” (1917)

I flood myself with the light
of the immense

Giuseppe Ungaretti (translation by Andrew Frisardi)