Dancing About Jackson Pollock, Essay on Featured Artist by Don Zirilli

Dancing About Jackson Pollock


C. Albert likes birds.

C. Albert is first and foremost a collagist.

I mean, we all do it, right? We all want to fly. We all rip things out of whatever’s around us, and piece those things together. That’s what we do when we’re being interesting. Albert’s good at it. She’s proven it.

Listen, I’m just making this stuff up. I’ve never met Albert. I’m not really talking about Albert. I’m only talking about some pieces of Albert that have been ripped away and stuck up nearby.

How do we fly? By fluttering. Albert flutters into images.

The Surrealists were pioneers of collage. That was a hundred years ago. At that time, collage was a rebellion. It was an assertion, a confession, that to simply “create” was naive and boring, that a whole thing created from a single process would simply repeat a known motif. We can’t help ourselves. We pass a doggie in the window and we love its big sad eyes because we have played the story of the big sad eyes in our heads over and over again. We can’t trust our dog-shopping self for art. The Surrealists would create by destroying. So they ripped things. They filled their balloons with the heat of burning traditions.

Albert isn’t rebelling. She flies, but doesn’t burn. Collage is now its own genre. The simple act of collage no longer ruffles the feathers of the Bourgeoisie. So, Albert is now back in the mode of the artist expressing herself. Same routine, different materials.

But what is this “self” being expressed, exactly? We’re talking about a dark, secret self here, epitomized by Jackson Pollock, who was the opposite of a collagist: he was in complete control of his image, every square inch of the canvas created directly by his hands, in the service of his most primal being (so primal, in fact, that “control” is the wrong word, or “Pollock” is the wrong word, because the self-who-can-be-named does not go deep enough to map the self he was expressing, neither does the self-who-can-drive-straight).

The collagist finds this self not through the dance of hands over a canvas, as Pollock did, but rather in the gaps between the things all around her. There you will find the darkness and the secrets.

The humility of a collagist is obvious: everything in her art is stolen. But all artists are humbled by their work, or they have achieved nothing. There’s something about painting that you might not know unless you’ve painted: the empty canvas fills with ghosts before you even touch your brush to it. Those ghosts are stolen images, the outside world crowding into the frame. You’re not creating something from nothing. You’re wrestling with ghosts.

And Albert conveys this perfectly. Unlike the painter who covers the ghosts with paint, Albert lays them out for us to see. Her works are beautifully haunted by the images of others.

When you think of art as self-expression, the implication is that “self” is difficult to express, that the more “self” you show, the better an artist you are, but I don’t believe that implication. Pollock painted nightmare figures from his childhood and then dripped paint all over them. He obscured his self, compulsively, obsessively, doggedly destroyed it, until finally he made of his own body a chaotic, messy abstraction.

The reality of the artistic situation is that “self” is virtually impossible not to express. The artist covers “self” with artifice, and in so doing does justice to the complexity of self as it exists in a world of selves and souls and soul and void: Pollock covered by Pollock; Albert in the spaces between what she sees, haunting herself with fragments of the world, her world which becomes more and less hers by her snipping of it.

I suppose I should be critical, by which I mean I suppose I should tell you why these particular pieces are good, in case you don’t already know. See a wing turn into a door! Watch Icarus suffer three different fates simultaneously! Watch the child eat its own birth, or is it singing its own birth? Watch a salad fly! Art is a spectacle, and Albert has delivered mightily on this promise. She multiplies an image the way a poet multiplies a word, layering meaning upon meaning over it, and then juxtaposes those meanings with other multivalent images, all the while using her keen sense of composition to make the whole a lovely thing to see. God bless the poet who can do all that with words.

C. Albert has chosen mastery over rebellion, and I find it to be a refreshing choice. Besides, mastery will always include rebellion, because to master something you must ultimately cast aside what everyone else thinks is best, and find the best within your own choices.
C. Albert, like birds.
C. Albert fly.

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