Peter Frank

Beneath the differences of individual surface are the universals of basic form—the factor which governs the relationship of part to part, of part to whole, and the whole form to the universal environment of which it forms a part.

–Piet Mondrian

In his autobiography, A Not-So-Still Life, Jimmy Ernst recounts a moment during his employment at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century gallery. Various émigré artists were selecting the gallery’s first young talent exhibition. Piet Mondrian, one of the judges, stood transfixed before a small abstract canvas. As Ernst bustled by repeatedly, he grew increasingly concerned about Mondrian’s motionlessness, and finally inquired after his well-being. The older artist assured the younger that there was nothing wrong, only that, although he didn’t like the painting at which he was staring, he couldn’t stop looking at it. The painting was Jackson Pollock’s.

One of the factors in the Pollock painting that so drew Mondrian in was certainly its implicit boundlessness. Even before he started dripping, Pollock had come to understand the picture plane not as a mere site for painting, but as a window onto an inferentially limitless universe. And Mondrian’s perception extended similarly off his own panels and into infinity. Both the neoplastic world Mondrian envisioned and the tumultuous but dynamically pulsing universe known to Pollock could only be sampled on canvas; in reality, those systems of visual—and metavisual—comprehension went on forever.

A latter-day Pollock now finds his own vision blooming beyond the confines of the painting, inferring the universality of the structure he proposes. By family, Bruce Pollock is no more related to Jackson Pollock than he is to Mondrian, but his spiritual relation to both men is close, most particularly in his grasp of painting as an exemplary exercise, at best a making visible of what had been invisible and remains ubiquitous. Bruce Pollock treats painting—and drawing—as an explication of detail, a proposal for an endless pattern, or patterning system, that invisibly fills all of existence. And scientific knowledge supports him, at least by metaphor.

Bruce Pollock has long addressed the visual field as a coherent, even unified realm; his reliance on all-over composition, and more recently on pattern, recapitulates and fuses practices that, in various ways, descend directly from the work of Mondrian and Jackson Pollock, among others. Here, the image or thing gives way to the expanse; the part isn’t simply subsumed by the whole, but replicates endlessly to comprise it—serving to disperse the viewer’s optical and ultimately cognitive focus throughout and beyond the artwork.

Mondrian’s asymmetric but insistent vertical-horizontal constructs became the grid that served as the armature for minimalism; Jackson Pollock’s seemingly unruly elaboration dissolved the image into the painterly gesture that filled abstract expressionism, pattern and decoration, and even work in far-removed disciplines such as video art. (Nam June Paik, for one, credited Jackson Pollock’s achievement as a provocation for his own.) In our time, Bruce Pollock transcends compositional concerns with the same expansive mind and eye as Mondrian’s and Jackson Pollock’s—and, unusual among painters of both pattern and neobaroque design, with the same cosmological perception.

Bruce Pollock’s most recent paintings and drawings, including (and notably) those that take installational form, explicitly embody naturally occurring mathematical systems, including not only standard geometric imagery but fractal formations. In particular, the relatively small (two-foot-square) paintings and one large wall drawing shown in California describe a universe of circles, circles within circles, circles forming circles, all of which can be comprehended at once as a vast web of gears, a never-ending garden of perfectly symmetrical (and perhaps submarine) flowers, and an endless unspooling of the molecular realm. Balanced and weighted perfectly, the units relate to one another, in size and in placement, as if sections of a spherically described golden mean. Each intimately scaled painting is monochromatic, the value and intensity of the color shifting from unit to unit in a dramatic display of changing light—that is, of continually fluctuating energy. The wall drawing, free of color, texture, and any quality but line, lays bare the armature of Bruce Pollock’s universe—and expands it massively, so that it envelops the viewer’s entire visual field.

In the paintings, at least, the floral/orbital arrangements of the circles, and the slight painterliness Pollock imparts to them, have the paradoxical effect of making their edges seem beveled—making their fractal quality more pronounced. The shifting color values stress the dynamic nature of the structure, but however kinetic the paintings seem, they seem stable overall, as immutable as galaxies. Of course, galaxies are anything but immutable, constantly reenacting as they do the cataclysms of their birth, and a ferocious vitality simmers below the surface of Pollock’s imagery. But what grips us most profoundly is the suggestion this imagery conveys of perpetuality: the wheels turn eternally, the units adhere forever, the atoms or petals or stars go on forever in their cosmic logic.

Is this the actual condition of our universe? In fact, it is the condition we hope the universe maintains around us, assuring us that we are not surrounded only by constant, furious, irresistible change. Doomed as we are existentially, we are still part of something coherent. And that coherency applies on every level, in every direction, ad infinitum. It does because it must. It does because that is how we can understand the condition(s) of our existence. Bruce Pollock has in fact described our universe quite willfully—boundless, certainly, but orderly as well. Like Mondrian’s, his cosmology makes immediate sense to the eye and the mind. But Jackson Pollock’s cosmology is no less ordered, finally, by the painter’s own reach and rhythm. Bruce Pollock, in the theater of his own presentation—here, seven bright but intimate paintings and one faint but overwhelming drawing—recapitulates as much of Jackson Pollock’s physically determined universe as he does of Mondrian’s conceptually extracted universe.

Thus does Bruce Pollock continue a tradition of postulation and exploration, projection and elaboration, visual device and spiritual expanse that has woven through and—at least conceptually—driven modern art. It is a search for transcendence that relies on a visually encompassable style, or at least stylization; pattern is a means not to decoration but to contemplation. Compositionally dispersed, Bruce Pollock’s pictures are the opposite of mandalas; but, with their myriad nuclei, they propose that the universe is a never-ending blanket of identical icons. Even as the mind rests nowhere, the eye rests everywhere—and vice versa.

Los Angeles

December 2008