I believe part what prepared me to notice the stray drips in Pollocks paintings was my fascination with Al Hirschfeld’s caricatures which appeared every Sunday in the Arts and Leisure section of the New York Times.
Each Sunday I looked forward to see how many times the name of Hirschfeld’s daughter, Nina, was hidden in his caricature. The number next to his signature indicated the number of times NINA could be found. I was good at it and it was fun. Finding Nina was a game. In a black and white line drawing certain areas would be prime NINA hiding places, week after week. Any type of hair and fold in clothing were where I would search first. Another component was my exposure to the Rembrandt Research Project.
As an undergraduate and as a MFA candidate, I worked part time at the art museum at the University of Michigan. When I left Ann Arbor, I was hired by the chief curator of The Minneapolis Institute of Arts as an art handler. That curator was Sam Sachs. In my job I performed the standard activities of caring for, hanging, framing, and transporting artworks. I was sent to Malibu to pack the Getty collection for exhibition in Minneapolis while the Getty villa was constructed. Of greater significance; I accompanied, observed, and assisted a small group of Dutch researchers who came to examine The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Rembrandt. I was simply a facilitator and an observer; removing the painting from the wall and taking off the frame. I stayed with them the entirety of their visit. They looked at the Rembrandt in ways that prepared me to see artworks differently. These conservators looked past imagery into how the paint was layered.
In Minneapolis I spent more time than expected in the conservation laboratory. This familiarity with the lab helped introduce me to many more people when I moved to the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College. I was hired to replace Del Spurlock, who had been the museum technician, but was transitioning to full time at the Intermuseum Conservation Association, housed in the same building.
My office and workshop were down the corridor from the ICA lab. Naturally, especially since we took coffee breaks together, I got to know Dick Buck, Ross Merrill, Marigene Butler, Marty Radecki, John Bertalan, Anne Clapp, and many of the interns. I spent hours and hours looking at paintings under raking light.
It was this interest in looking at paintings from an angle that entertained and informed me for years. I was most fascinated, in particular, with the color choices of Matisse and Klimt, how they refined their color choices. Each opportunity to study their paintings brought fresh insights, as both artists left clues and clear indications of how their paintings evolved. It was that one day at MoMA in 2002 that I finished a up close visit with a favorite Matisse, that I turned to find a nine foot tall by eighteen foot wide canvas and I wondered if Jackson Pollock had anything to share. I was willing to guess the answer was a no.
That day I found seven pink drips that did not belong on One: Number 31, 1950. I wondered what this was about. The next day I visited the Met, with similar amazement.
Al Hirschfeld always put a number next to his name, broadcasting how many times he has hidden his daughters name. Jackson Pollock left no tell tale number.
In looking for over splatter on Pollocks, the lowest portion of the painting is worth a good look.How Rembrandt and Nina Prepared Me