Ten years and divergent art styles separated the oldest and youngest of the five Pollock brothers. Both studied under the regionalist painter Thomas Hart Benton at the Art Students League, in New York City. Charles, in his late 20s, adopted Benton’s American-scene painting before later turning to abstraction. Jackson, in his late teens, was more interested in the symbolic and mythical content of the Mexican artists. He would sign a gallery contract with Peggy Guggenheim and go on to develop the radical “action” technique that made him famous.
Seventy of Charles’s serene, self-effacing Abstract Expressionist paintings and works on paper from 1949 to the 1980s are on display starting today at the Society of the Four Arts, in Palm Beach. Alongside them are pieces that offer a rarely seen side of Jackson: his sole surviving sculpture; one of five surviving notepads—the last still in private hands—with graphics drawn on Japanese airmail paper; and virtually his entire production of prints (monotypes, etchings, and silkscreens), long eclipsed by his monumental Mural—the 8-by-20-foot canvas commissioned by Guggenheim in 1943, which is currently on show at the Guggenheim Museum in New York—as well as his action paintings. A small drip painting from the Nancy Olnick and Giorgio Spanu Collection—the work that arguably spurred the great “season” of Jackson’s drip period, from 1947 to 1950—rounds out the show.
The Four Arts exhibition marks the first time the little-known but superb abstract work of Charles has been shown in the company of his younger brother’s. And despite the fact that Charles brought Jackson to New York when the latter was just 18, mentored him in the early years, and continued to support him throughout his career, “neither brother influenced the other,” says Philip Rylands, the exhibition’s co-curator, president of the Four Arts, and former head of Venice’s Peggy Guggenheim Collection. “Charles was proud of Jackson, whose fame rose meteorically from 1949 onwards. Jackson virtually ceased his production as a painter in 1954 and died in a road accident in 1956, only weeks after Charles had produced his first substantial body of work. By a curious inversion, therefore, the older brother’s career as an abstract painter takes off only when the younger brother’s ends.”
Charles never attempted to replicate or imitate the work of his brother, whose death preceded his own by 32 years. —Julia Vitale