The Corpse Of Modernism & The Blood Of Jackson Pollock

published in Art & Australia, Sydney, Spring 1988
Jackson Pollock painting - 1947

The Death Of The Body

Picture Modern Art/Modernism as a body - complex but connected. In a sense, alive. Reflect upon it as having once lived, during a period of creation which was later to be perceived as 'history in the making'. Relive the energy and lifeforce of the Modern Masters ; plug into that mythical dynamo, that collective body of creativity. Now witness that same body as a cadaver : a shell, a hull ; evidence of what was once alive, fertile, creative. Time for the autopsy : enter the Pop artists. They are the forensic division. Observe their two basic methodologies : (i) analyzing the scene of the death, and (ii) analyzing the body as corpse.

The Scene Of The Death

Bucket Of Blood (1959); Color Me Blood Red (1965)

I can gladly accept the death of Modernism (so-called) but I want better reportage of the event. That's why we need the forensic division. At the scene of the death they collect data to be transformed into exhibits which we group together as examples of Modernists whose abstractions and expressions prepare us for the Pop 'explosion'. Witness the bodily violence of Bacon's Christs and De Kooning's women [1]. Images of, respectively, the dead and the deadly. Their lineage includes Picasso - that great Cubist, now renamed the Rambo of form in recognition of his violence toward form. There is no angst here : no Munchian screams or Scheilian spasms, just plain, raw violence. A portrayal of the violence inherent in the act of representation, in the translation of form. If Picasso, Bacon and De Kooning are theatrical directors (constructing 'scenes' which depict the distortion of form) then Pollock is a performer portraying those scenes. They give us acts - Pollock gives us action ; they give us images of violence - Pollock gives us the violence of image.

This violence of/against form culminates in Pollock's prostrate canvases - true precursors to Splatter movies [2] and their intense abstraction of bodily violence into a state of action. Pollock paints with the still-warm blood of Modernism. His paintings are evidence of death. None of this has much to do with expression because we're looking for ulterior motives. Thus we trace the consequences and ramifications of Pollock's violence across a set of representations of acts of violence that diffuse the art/society nexus : from Roger Corman's camp comedy BUCKET OF BLOOD (1959) to Herschell Gordon Lewis' gore film COLOR ME BLOOD RED (1965) to the Manson Family painting "PIG" in the fresh foetal blood from Sharon Tate's womb (1969).

Both BUCKET OF BLOOD and COLOR ME BLOOD RED concern mad artists who use the actual blood and/or bodies of their models to make their artworks. BUCKET OF BLOOD involves sycophantic Beat artist Walter Paisley covering his models with plaster and then exhibiting them. Two years later George Segal reworks the process as metaphorical murder with his life-casts. Both Walter Paisley and George Segal seem to ponder : if only mummification were a legal art practice, then we could really talk about 'realistic expression' and 'capturing life'. COLOR ME BLOOD RED involves crazed bohemian Adam Sorg discovering that the effect of real red can only be achieved by using real blood. His 'models' are required not for their external form but their internal fluid. Interestingly the 'mad artist' subgenre of films [3] often deals with this confusion (psychotic and artistic) between internal and external form where realism is displaced by the real, and expression by the express [4].

Tate/Labianca murder scene, 1969; Hermann Nitsch - Splatter Painting (1983)

But Charles Manson is the true heir to Pollock's violence. Once again, I'm not talking about the social stereotype of the mad artist, or the literality of Pollock's aggression toward the canvas [5], but the so-called 'madness' itself - its purpose and its intensity as directed energy. Linking Pollock to Manson, we conject that art is the action of working materials against form. Manson unwittingly gives us Body Art by transforming the metaphorical status of the canvas into the metonymical status of the body : the innocent body as the blank canvas, the body cuts as painterly marks. Intention, statement, execution. The scene is thus set for Herman Nitsch [6], Joseph Beuys, Vito Acconi, Iggy Pop, Chris Burden, et al, each attacking themselves with all the violence of Pollock's surfaces and Manson's slashes.

Before we move on, let us reconsider the critical notion of 'action painting' in direct relation to Pollock. His paintings (initially horizontal victims in the studio, now hung as vertical spectacles in public [7]) are true acts of violence. In particular, consider those works which involve the application of paint on the canvas while the primer was still wet. The result is an actual incision into the painted surface. The primed surface causes the applied splatterings to chemically react, producing an effect which evokes welts upon flesh. Just as Pollock's dripping paint is the 'lifeblood' of a decaying Modernism, so are his canvases material depictions of acts of violence. He worked while the primer was still wet and while the blood was still warm.

A retrial is called : Pollock is no longer an undisputed seminal figure in Abstract Expressionism, but a salaciously morbid figure for Pop Art. He is a progenitor of material violence, marking the commencement of a new phase of graphic violence (pictorial, formal and textural) which we generally relate to Pop Art. The point is that Pollock is a million times closer to Warhol and Lichtenstein than he is to Motherwell and Rothko. These are just some of the reasons that start to account for two tendencies peculiar to Pop Art, namely : (i) the iconic reworking of recognized Abstract Expressionist identities, and (ii) the hyper-material abstraction that constitutes the surfaces of Pop's representational base.

The Life Of The Corpse

Andy Warhol - Dick Tracy (1961); Roy Lichtenstein - Brushstrokes (1967)

Thus we come to analyzing the body itself – the cadaver or corpse of Modernism. The forensic material has been digested, tabulated, assembled and exhibited. The summation : Modernism died of Abstract Expressionism. To put it another way, Pop didn't 'react against' Abstract Expressions im as the textbooks say [8]. While Abstract Expressionism drew the lifeblood of Modernism in general, Pop Art drew the lifeforce of Abstract Expressionism in particular. It both subsumed and exhumated the energy of Abstract Expressionism, harnessing it for different means, playing with and displaying that lifeforce so as to reveal the Pop artist not as a murderer but as a mortician. In this case, we're not looking at necrophilia or a 'death aesthetic', but more so appreciating the arrangement of the cadaver : the stylization of representations of the material depiction of acts of violence.

No analysis is really needed for this appreciation. Look at any key work from the Pop era in the flesh. Magazines or slides can't show it. They only allude or refer to the presence of action and activity which evidence and demonstrate Pop's hyper-material abstraction. Look closely at most Pop paintings and the 'pop' will become eroded by your look, decaying into an unrecognizable landscape of paint. The supreme irony of Pop is that its mode of 'stylization' (high-key, camp, graphic, comic, photographic, pornographic, etc.) is hyper-material : totally encoded in the substantial effects of its surface.

In order to follow through this flow (accepting that I will not attempt to account for the total bulk of Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art) let us look briefly at two members of the mortician's guild : Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. In particular, let's look at what they did with Pollock and how they identified with the thrust of his work. It is here that we must recognize that thrust as a legacy, in that Pollock martyred himself for his cause : to destroy the very manner in which Modernism was attempting to break down plastic and mimetic form. This legacy is in a form of cultural terrorism with which Warhol and (to a lesser degree) Lichtenstein approached their role in the presentation of form and image. While Pollock's site for terrorism was the neutralized ground of the framed canvas (the conventional space for the occurrence of formal reality in Modernism) the Pop Art 'explosion' shifted the frame to picture those spaces which constituted the social reality Modernism tended to ignore : popular/mass culture [9].

Warhol's early comic paintings (1960-61) are an ambiguous (or multiple) take on Abstract Expressionism's penchant for the messy, the fluid, the unfixed. Works like Dick Tracy, PopEye and Nancy seem to playback Abstract Expressionism's original rhetorical question : is it the canvas that tells the artist to finish, or vice versa? Thus the comics aren't finished, but the paintings are. The gestural status of such works, though, is later replaced by the material status of (most noticeably) Warhol's Portraits Of The Seventies. Here, the very concept of separating form from content is played with, deliberately overlaying/underlining the photographic screenprint with the abstract texturing of paint so that the two are simultaneously fused yet fissured. The image seems to be on top of the painterly swipes while the texture of the painted surface (the actual landscaping of those swipes upon the canvas) are clearly the uppermost layer of the painting.

These two periods or sections of Warhol's oeuvre further provide us with a complex analogy of how modes of depiction (representation/content) and modes of rendition (non-representation/form) can eat into each other. Their interaction generates Pop's lifeforce, for while Warhol endlessly professed a predilection toward the utter and abject plasticity of the world, his work often tended to lean toward the fluidity of Pollock and (more so) Rauschenberg [10]. The central material connection between Warhol and Abstract Expressionism lies in Warhol's (and not Rauschenberg's) employment of the silkscreen. Warhol simply restated Pollock's focus on the arm (ie. not the hand, which Duchamp had already proposed forgetting) as a primary kinetic force in executing the surface of an image : both are involved in the aleatory texturing resultant from a varied intensity of application. The thickness/thinness of Pollock's splatter is thus restated as the density/sparseness of Warhol's screening.

Lichtenstein is more involved with capturing the frozen fluidity of Abstract Expressionism. His work collectively attends formalism perhaps more than any other Pop artist [11] whereas Warhol plays with abstraction to a similar extent. Lichtenstein presents the graphic (restricted to dot, line and a limited palette) as a supreme and total mode of abstraction. Even though his benday-cataloguing of Modernism's greatest hits views Abstract Expressionism as no more than one of many prescribed sites for restyled quotation, the central figure in his later work (post 1972) is the 'severed brushstroke' - a figure whose meaning and effect is the result of Abstract Expressionism's isolation of the brushstroke as a prime means of expression.

This 'severed brushstroke' (or 'frozen brushstroke' as it has also been called [12]) first appears with Lichtenstein's Brushstrokes (1965-67). It hovers in and on the void of the canvas as a two-dimensional rendering of the three-dimensional status of painting's two-dimensional nature. Brushstrokes aren't as flat as the Op-Abstract crossovers (of the 'hard edge' schools) would have us believe : they are just as much of an event, an action, a gesture and an object as each and every splatter Pollock ever made. Lichtenstein's 'severed brushstrokes' deny, belie and decry painting's illusion of flatness. From those Brushstrokes to a body of early eighties' works like Sailboats, Two Apples and Portrait, to his most recent works which incorporate 'actual' brushstrokes, one realizes that Lichtenstein doesn't paint brushstrokes as much as he paints with them, marking his paintings more as displays of visual syntax than mere comments on formal illusion.

Juan Davila - Sentimental History of Australian Art (1982); Maria Kozic - Head (Wall) (1988)

The Children Of The Dead

Both Warhol and Lichtenstein were photographers at the scene of Modernism's death. They took pictures and compared them with their forensic findings from which they concluded Pollock's modus operandi upon the corpus delecti. As Pop artists, they drew the chalk outline around the corpse ; they performed the post-mortem ; they prepared the cadaver for display. As such, Pop Art is the first and most wonderfully anti-humanist art of the 20th century. It is an approach to artmaking based on decay, destruction, death and deconstruction as both a means and an end. Not surprisingly, these morbid perspectives have continued to generate Pop's lifeforce in work being produced today. The most interesting Contemporary (post 1980) Pop Art in this light is that which fully acknowledges, openly embraces and textually reworks the molecular flows cited above [13].

From Pollock to Warhol and Lichtenstein, we arrive at Juan Davila and Maria Kozic. These two Contemporary Pop artists are, again, both connected and disconnected : both have violently dealt with Pollock, Warhol and Lichtenstein in differing ways which nonetheless constitute a clear reinvigouration of Pop's continuing lifeforce. They, too, are wonderfully anti-humanist in their dealings with art ; they are the children of the dead whose heritage and lineage is pronounced in their work in no uncertain terms.

Before looking at certain works by Davila and Kozic, some further connections need to be outlined in terms of how their contemporary form of cultural terrorism (upon the institution and history of art) relates to the aforementioned Pollock legacy. Pop initiated the gesture of shifting its frame directly onto societal (ie. non-gallery) forces and objects. However, with this being the initial thrust of such a move, one must recognize such a gesture primarily as movement : that is, it is the act and effect of shifting or moving across into popular/mass culture that typifies Pop's relation to society. Two decades on, such an act and effect becomes - respectively - theatrical and conventional. Davila and Kozic are not concerned with moving into popular/mass culture as a radical gesture - that would amount to no more than a political farce. Rather, they have accumulated the cultural ingraining of two decades-worth of such theatre, leaving them to deal with popular/mass culture not in terms of a movement into it, but as a habitation of its spaces.

For Davila, this means looking back across/into the discourses of art from a perspective that necessitates his specific political readings through his citation of spaces (ie. he exists 'simultaneously' within and without the Academy, the Museum, the Press, etc.). In a sense, the same applies to Kozic but under different political terms : her look back across/into art discourse is the result of a directed reflection as her readings are essentially aimed toward the cultural multiplicity that both informs and energizes her work (she exists within the social and cultural histories of her subjects).

Just as Warhol did 'snuff portraits' [14] and Pollock 'committed suicide' with paint, Davila - in Stupid As A Painter (1981) - delivers an intensely masochistic exhibition that verges on self-annihilation. Quivering with its impressive and oppressive stature, this work is a panorama of 'perfectly' executed brushstrokes, reminding us that Davila is a superb craftsman whose rewriting of the history of art hangs on his skillful simulation of styles and effects. The point is that this contradiction is central to the power of Davila's work : his 'power' as a displaced voice (the other, the colonized, the repressed, etc.) is painfully tied to the power of art history not only as an institution but as a machine of material effects.

This deathly relationship recalls that of the parasite and the host, where each end up keeping one another alive through living off each other's life substance and energy (echoing Pollock's tie to Modernism and Pop Art's tie to Abstract Expressionism). Consider this in relation to Davila's Painting (1984) where a set of collisions are fused into a 'molecular explosion' within the frame, within the proscenium arch of the spectacle : noun/verb, necrophilia/sex, love/rape, Davila/Lichtenstein, oppression/repression, etc. Here the life of painting is expressed as the death of the painted, as Davila openly accepts the necrophiliac aspects of playing and working with art history.

While Davila refutes the role of illusion in painting in order to wield the phantom/phantasmic power of simulation [15], he ends up abstracting the codings of simulation in one his most recent works titled Nothing (1987). While this work is primarily concerned with its status as a framing device (hence the title referring to the territorialized blank gallery wall in the centre, defined by the 'multi-lingual' and trans-historical boundaries which frame it), it is the seven overtly 'abstract' panels which are of concern here.

The result of Davila's 'abstraction of the codes of simulation' here is hard to describe, because essentially the depiction of the textural is rendered sensual, imbuing these abstract panels with an intense pornographic effect akin to photographic pornography where the body's textures and surfaces are unrecognizable. Granted that this pornographic effect is somewhat inevitable considering the sexual content of the work (being symptomatic of Davila's oeuvre) these seven panels nonetheless contain brushstrokes which foreground the sexual energy latent even in Pollock's macho splatterings. These panels thus literally treat the canvas as body and flesh by accenting the symbolic status of such brush work : slashing, slicing and carving the canvas to produce lacerations and scars ; oozing, seeping and squirting the paint to produce stains and spurts. If we can have Slasher movies (a contemporary set within the Splatter sub-genre) we can also have 'Slash Art' [16].

If Davila writes by swiping, smearing, stroking and smoothing paint on canvas, Kozic writes with dots, lines, grids and blanks [17]; Davila produces and reproduces frames upon/within frames while Kozic interlaces and superimposes matrices. Such would be the textual and formal differences in how they encode effects into their surfaces. In fact, the 'vibration' between Warhol and Lichtenstein is very similar in feel and rhythm to that between Davila and Kozic (although this would require further definition beyond the scope of this article) [18].

Consider the Godzilla triptych (1983) where each panel depicts a tighter framing of (or further zoom-in on) the famous iconic still of Godzilla chewing a train. All three panels highly articulate the benday dots of their original reproduction, but the weird thing is that even though the image looms larger in each panel, the dots remain the same size. Upon perceiving this, one realizes that the object of sequencing and enlarging is not the image of Godzilla (the mechanically reproduced cultural artifact : the film still) but the abstracted iconic status of Godzilla : Godzilla as cultural icon, mythical figure, cinematic star, etc. All this is the result of not enlarging the dots while simultaneously employing them to convey the distortion of scale (from tiny screened-photo to monstrous canvas) [19].

But the physical surface of the painting is even more telling. Each dot is an actual daub of paint - a sole event, a single action, a 'severed brushstroke'. Kozic thus uses the mechanics of the paintbrush to simulate the process of the benday dot screen, providing a commentary on the culture's continual transference of processes, just as Pollock critiqued Modernism's methodical translation of form. In this transfer from depiction to rendition, the dots literally become spots before your eyes. Extending this further, Kozic gives us Lichtenstein Dots (1985) which promiscuously yet profoundly declare artistic identity within a single benday dot, blowing up (violently) Lichtenstein's simulation of the benday process so as to project his dot as a spot, as a microscopic container of artistic staining.

This effect is played with again in the Clutches (1984) where there is more than just the superficial play between figuration and abstraction. The human bodies depicted [20] are locked into the domineering, painterly swipes so that the spectacle generated is one of flattened architecture, with the monochromes (heroic, non-figurative red and romantic, figurative black) contesting each other. Yet a dizzy network of simulations prevent the paintings from become illusions of painterly dichotomies, for the black and white figures simulate a charcoal rendering (via paint) while the red backgrounds mimic (with a side nod to Soulages) bigger-than-big brushstrokes, simulated by microcosmically executing the textures of such a macrocosmic effect (ie. pretending they were painted with a giant brush). Once again, the key to Kozic's transference of processes is her employment and deployment of brushstrokes, which have "returned with a vengeance" [21].

We finish with Kozic's Master Pieces (1987) although this whole tale of violence is far from either its catharsis or its climax. In Master Pieces, vandalism, also, returns with a vengeance [22]. Kozic singles out Cubism (Picasso), Expressionism (Munch), Constructivism (Mondrian), Pop (Warhol) and Abstract Expressionism (Pollock) and identifies them not as styles per se, but as edifices : imposing, architectural figureheads, awaiting the scrawling, searing and scratching of the Present. They have more likely than not also been chosen for their gestural action, their formal violence, and their outward projection (hence other 'softer' modes of the Impressionist lineage are excluded) - modes of address suited more to the cultural and social workings of the mass media than the self-reflexive/self-referential exclusive workings of the museum.

In particular, the Pollock Master Piece fully acknowledges his legacy of formal violence and its latent cultural terrorism. In this work, depiction is incredibly confused with rendition as it speaks with an impossible density of codes, processes, effects and simulations. Recalling the previously cited effect of molecular explosion in Davila's Stupid As A Painter, the Pollock Master Piece collides Pop Art back into Abstract Expressionism, giving us a cartoon explosion whose fragmented surfaces are hopelessly realistic. Here the fragments are thus 'severed' and 'frozen' (naming Pollock and Lichtenstein at once) as the sculptural shards of 'paintingness' cornily project outward like a 3-D movie. A total blur between cultural, social and historical processes of reproduction and expression - a blur whose deliberate dissolution of focus is traced back to Pollock and his manner of execution. Caught up in the regeneration of Pop's lifeforce, Kozic executes her brushstrokes through a serialization of processes (in comparison to Davila's modulation of styles) ; turning the dot into the spot, the splatter into the shatter.

Children of the dead, Davila and Kozic live with their deathly inheritance, with blood-stained hands and necrophiliac desire. This is neither nihilistic, pessimistic nor solipsistic, for Davila and Kozic are positively interested in the action of painting (the heritage of 'action painting') : not only its gestural status (which in the theatre of contemporary art is only a means to an end) but its material status, coded by and communicated through the brushstroke - the language of execution. In ending this article's molecular flow, there is only one thing we need to remember : when Pollock laid his canvas down, he laid Modernism to rest.


1 I pick these two artists as examples only. They are obviously quite different to one another, but are nonetheless linked by virtue of their disrecognition of the human body. I say 'body' rather than 'form' because their nude and figure studies test the limits of our own bodily identification. Collectively, their works (particularly Bacon's Crucifixion studies (1960-63) and De Kooning's Woman series (1950-53) evoke various documents and depictions : the Scotland Yard photograph of Jack The Ripper's mutilation of the body of Marie Kelly ; withheld newspaper photographs of Jayne Mansfield's decapitated body ; etc. (to be found in any standard compendium of the history of 'bizarre' crime, murder and death).

2 A sub-generic term denoting films which privilege graphic on-screen violence. The first Splatter movie is recognized as being Herschell Gordon Lewis' BLOOD FEAST (1963) which features an unsettling scene of a naked female body laid out on a table - with the body itself being the banquet meal ; hacked, ravaged and massacred into a bloodied abstraction of a reclining nude. Compare this image with Meret Oppenheim's Spring Feast (1959) where a naked female body covered with fruit is feasted upon by male diners. (A picture of this appears in Adrian Henri's Total Art, Praeger 1974.)

3 This sub-genre probably starts with MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM (1933) and carries on through the wax museum cycle of neo-gothic horror movies instigated by that film's 1953 remake HOUSE OF WAX. All consequent variations have in one way or another involved the covering of the human body/form to simulate a representation of the real human. Other examples : CAULDRON OF BLOOD (1967) - blind sculptor using human bones for his sculptural foundations ; CRUCIBLE OF TERROR (1971) - possessed artist covering victims in bronze ; DRILLER KILLER (1979) - surrealist painter cracks up and goes on murder spree with his new 'paintbrush' - an electric drill ; etc.

4 Compare these psychotic conceptualizations of a fused artistic form with the interloping or melting of internal/external form found in sculpture from Hans Arp through to Henry Moore.

5 I here wish to distinguish Pollock's mode of violence from some other more obvious or literal executions of 'canvas violence' which all occur around 1960. Lucio Fontana's slashed canvases have a violent appearance - vandalism, anger, frustration are all suggested - but they are primarily directed towards elaborating his theory of Spatialism. Yves Kline's Anthropometries are the result of his use of nude-model-paintbrushes. This was initially sensationalist enough to appear in the first 'shockumentary' MONDO CANE (1962) but when Kline took the process one step further and had a model perform an Anthropometry using real blood, Kline reportedly destroyed the work, preferring to stick with paint. Gustav Metzger took Pollock's technique to its literal (and material) end when he 'performed' his paintings by demonstrating his Acid Nylon Technique of painting acid onto stretched nylon canvases which would then dissolve within twenty minutes (see Art & Artists August 1968 issue which is devoted to the I.C.A.'s Destruction In Art Symposium of 1966). None of these examples, however, provide us with Pollock's destructive essence : to demonstrate the erosion of Modernism's concept of form with the very materials and means which determined that same erosion.

6 While Beuys (and Group Zero), Kline (and The Void) and Nitsch (and the O M Theatre) all made their initial marks in Performance Art at the start of the sixties', it was Manson (and his Family) who in 1969 fused life and art to a degree that nullified any concept of theatre or performance as it had been stated up to that point in art. In one interview Manson gave us some rhetoric worthy of any socio-political performance artist : "If it takes fear and violence to open the eyes of the dollar-conscious society, the name Charles Manson can be that fear." (From Octopus Books compendium Crooks, Crime & Corruption, 1987). Nitsch was quick off the mark with a performance in 1969 titled The Death Of Sharon Tate, but quite obviously it could have only been left to ring hollow in light of Manson's actualism. Almost as in response to Manson's atrocity acted upon society itself, Performance Body Art through the seventies' was intensely personal, directed inwards to the artist's self and onto his own body.

7 Pollock viewed his large canvases as the start of what he hoped would be a wider acceptance of public murals as the major way of presenting art to the viewer (cited by Pollock in voice-over to the circa-1952 filmed footage of him performing his paintings - this footage being found in a number of other films concerning Pollock and 'action painting').

8 Art historicism writes Modernism as a sequelized narrative of reactions to and against various modes of address or methods of depiction. Accordingly, Pop's high degree of plastic mimeticism and representational subject matter is supposed to be a reaction against the New York School's abject refusal of cultural content and social form. However most Pop artists in statements and interviews are nowhere near as hysterically anti-Modernism or anti-Abstract Expressionism as their contra-high art stances suggest.

9 This metaphor of territory and terrorism could be extended further : consider Pollock's attack of the canvas as nonetheless recognizing Modernism's decree of the canvas as the 'official' battleground of representation, then compare it with Pop's attack of the symbols and institutions of high culture as being a form of (urban) jungle warfare - developing site-specific weapons for fighting on a new terrain.

10 This article does not attempt to deal with Rauschenberg, Rivers or Johns, who are most indicative of the blurred distinction between Abstract Expressionism and Pop. Whilst Warhol openly declared his respect for Rauschenberg (doing his 'portraits' in 1962-63) I here wish to make apparent certain textual/hyper-material connections between Pollock and Warhol - connections that exist in an entirely different manner in the work of Rauschenberg, Rivers and Johns.

11 "I sort of insist that the problem is really form, because (my) art obviously has subject or content .... I always think that it's the formal part that gets neglected and that usually people talk about what the subject means .... I am pressing what I think is not obvious, particularly in relationship to the Abstract Expressionism that it came out of ...." So goes my condensed/reorganized version of Lichtenstein's 1983 response to Alloway's query about the role of iconography in his work. From Lawrence Alloway's Roy Lichtenstein, Abbeville Modern Masters series, Abbeville Press 1983.

12 I view the Brushstroke as already being 'frozen' when Lichtenstein came to it. Pollock 'froze' the brushstroke by replacing it with his splatters, having them remain as constant evidence of fluidity : flattened onto the picture plane-sans-frame by the gravitational pull on liquid, rather than the kinetic push of matter typified by the craft-orientated concept (so popular in art colleges) of 'pushing paint around'.

13 For further discussion of this notion of a Contemporary Pop Art see Philip Brophy "POP HISTORY - ART HISTORY - CINEMA HISTORY" in Maria Kozic's Western Spaghetti : Venice Biennale 1986, Humongous Publications 1987.

14 See Philip Brophy : "THE MANY DEATHS OF ANDY WARHOL " in Art & Australia, Spring 1987

15 "I do not believe in the notion of a visual unconscious (....) but in the mechanisms that would operate there .... (My work responds) to a drive that (uses) mass media and (addresses) the spectator as belonging to multinational life .... The gap between what is looked at and the one that looks is one of mediation and not of illusion ; art should not sublimate reality." From "A QUESTION OF IM-PERTINENCE - Interview between Juan Davila & Paul Foss" in Hysterical Tears, Greenhouse 1985. See also Juan Davila & Paul Foss' The Mutilated Pieta, Artspace 1985.

16 Davila modulates Modernism by continually cataloguing and rewriting its effects (techniques) in his executions and orchestrations. Nothing directly refers to historical techniques of abstraction, particularly those of the Surrealists and the Abstract Expressionists, reworking a concept Davila initiated in a 1985 work titled Painting Signature, where the left half is in the form of a collaged charting of Modernist styles while the right half is a display of corresponding Modernist techniques.

17 As outlined in Pages From Maria Kozic's Book (edited by Paul Foss & Juan Davila), Artspace 1987. From the same text : "Maria disturbs the rhythm of stylistic evolution and thins out the painted word. She corrodes the history of paint." Consider this in relation to Davila's stylistic r-evolution in Stupid As A Painter where even the background photographic wallpaper (upon which the painting is painted) is made painterly.

18 See Untitled (3 separate sheets) 1984 - a collaboration devised by Davila between himself, Kozic and Howard Arkley, where Kozic reworks Davila's modus operandi by making direct references not to (Pop) art history but (pop) cultural history.

19 This is in direct contrast to works like Alain Jacquet's Dejeuner Sur L'Herbe series of enlargements and croppings (1964).

20 Here Kozic directly quotes from the history of Graphic Illustration : a pseudo sketching technique notably tied to the forties style of heroic/romantic representation of photographic film stills for the film's advertising posters.

21 From Pages From Maria Kozic's Book, op cit.

22 The work could no doubt be subtitled 'The History of Modernism' in light of Modern Art's attack on form. Master Pieces is a play on Pop's 'Neo Dadaist' contribution to vandalizing icons of Abstract Expressionism. A starting point here could be Rauschenberg's polite erasure (with granted permission) of a De Kooning drawing he purchased in 1953 - a form of gestural vandalism. De Kooning cops it again with Lichtenstein's cover-version Woman III (1983) where De Kooning's style is stated as a commodified style - a form of discursive vandalism. Warhol's most abstract work - the Oxidation Paintings (1978) - is a form of self vandalism directed to the canvas where, in a typically Duchampian pun, Warhol 'takes the piss out of himself'.

Text © Philip Brophy. Images © respective copyright holders.