SAN FRANCISCO — Earlier this week we wrote about how Jackson Pollock was driven by a secret desire to be a sculptor. We have some cross talk on that today with a news item regarding a work by funk ceramist Robert Arneson. One of Arneson’s final works Guardians of the Secret II, (1990) references the Pollock painting Guardians of the Secret (1943). The life sized ceramic work was an artistic effort of several years. It’s currently on view at Brian Gross Fine Art (San Francisco, March 12 – May 7). Additionally, we’re told through ArtNet that this piece, a meeting of two giants in their respective fields, is for sale.
Above image: Robert Arneson, Guardians of the Secret II, 1989-90
The gallery states that Arneson thought of Pollock as an alter ego and sometimes referenced the painter in his own sculptures. Pollock gave Arneson a template to work from, similar to how Arneson used himself as a model, iterating on his own image in his work. But “model” applies less here than “homage.” Guardians is a true homage to Pollock. Arneson picked Guardians because it was the only major Pollock work on exhibition in the Bay area, Arneson’s stomping grounds. The sculptor spent three years at the end of his life perfecting the work, doing several studies which are also on view at Gross. The studies and sheer scale of the piece (7-feet high by 10-feet long) show that Arneson was aiming for the fences with the sculpture. The gallery states:
Built life-size from glazed stoneware, steel, wood, canvas, epoxy, and mixed media, Arneson’s Guardians of the Secret II succeeds in translating Pollock’s semi-abstract painting into concrete, literalized forms, solidifying ambiguities and imaginatively creating a backside to the original work. In interpreting the painting, Arneson turned the sculpture into Pollock’s cenotaph, entombing in the central coffin form symbolic reliquaries. Over the coffin is draped a painted canvas cover that reproduces the central area of the original painting. Resting atop this are various symbolic figures, while supporting all of this is a steel tube stretched between the two life-size guardian figures made out of clay. Under the coffin lies the “she-wolf” who is being mounted by a brush-wielding monkey.
During the three years it took to create Guardians, Arneson made multiple study pieces and models of the entire composition, as well as individual elements. Included in the exhibition will be nine key study works, including the larger than life size working drawing from which the final piece was rendered. Additionally, on view will be three works from the larger “Jackson Pollock Series”, including the haunting drawing J.P.’s Shadow (1987), Stringhalt J (1987), a cast paper wall relief portrait of Pollock covered in paint splatters, and a large scale ceramic head of Pollock resting on a redwood trunk entitled Golden Stone (1986).
Robert Arneson’s work can be found in major museums nationally and internationally, including The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Guggenheim Museum, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; Los Angeles County Museum; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT; Art Institute of Chicago; Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park, Japan, National Museum of Art, Kyoto; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Denver Art Museum; Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO; Oakland Museum of California; Berkeley Art Museum, Berkeley, California; Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University; and Anderson Collection at Stanford, among others.
What do you think of this contemporary ceramic art homage to Pollock? Let us know in the comments.