Asked about his technique Pollock replied : I paint with my corpuscles with my red and white cells with every damned fibre of my body and my soul with my chromosomes with my DNA the synapses of my mind with my flesh and with my bones I use it all
I paint my life for my life with my life with my time and with my breath and with all that I see and hear and sense and understand and don’t the mysteries including the love and the endless pain and the white silences on the edges of existence I paint my heaven and my hell and every virtue and vice and it all just pours out of one black abyss into another white abyss s’all I can say
I’m a poet and a patriot but I sometimes paint though I make no claims for my artistic skills I simply try to lay down the colours and shapes of the words I carry around in my head along with whatever energies I can bring to bear
If I was a painter I would strive to be a de Kooning or a Jackson Pollock or wherever the action is but there’s no hope of that so relax it’s Saturday and my mind’s on the walk we are about to take over the river to Spitalfields to try a Philadelphia cheese steak sandwich and on Sunday I will be watching the Superbowl and cheering on the Eagles even though I have only the vaguest understanding of the game : it’s just not my game
When I think of Pollock’s ‘Number One’ I think of Frank O’Hara’s digression ________________________ both are balancing acts on a tightrope and in Pollock one sees the twisted narrative almost impossible to unravel as he tiptoes across the ravine on a perfect day for it as Frank writes :
warm for winter cold for fall— do you see ?
So Sunday morning I wake at six o’clock as per usual and peek out the window. Can see it’s a blustery day and I feel that the grey clouds slopping about overhead are ganging up on me, just waiting for me to step outside. Does not bode well! Still, intrepid as ever, it’s shower, shave, gallo pinto for breakfast and out the door, notebook in hand, optimism in my heart. Head down to the tracks and off to London town in search of Pollocks. Readers may recall my previous Sunday visit to Tate Britain. No Pollocks there, but plenty of other first rate objets d’art so not a wasted journey by any means. This Sunday, it’s Tate Modern, gotta be Pollocks there, surely. Get to Blackfriars on the Tube and as I hit the street all hell breaks loose up above, cats, dogs, anything the weather can throw at me, so I arrive at the old power station drenched to my Wilson socks, shake it off like a dog and enter the monumental arthouse, nip up to the second floor and ask one of the attendants: “Where’s the Pollocks?” She’s very sweet, about 5’ 2”, glasses, dark auburn hair, just a tad overweight, but that’s her business not mine, and the bearer of bad news: “Sorry, my love, they’re all in Tate Liverpool for a big exhibition.” My face is now a pool on the Tate Modern floor. “What? In Liverpool? O for God’s sake! I’ve come all this way!” “Sorry, my love. But they’ll be back sometime soon, second week of September, if I’m not mistaken.” “But I wanted to write a piece about them, I’ve got a blog.” She gives me a long, hard, charitable stare. “Sorry, ducks. Can’t be helped.”
Resilience, Battle of Britain spunk. I must have some of that somewhere. So, yeah, sure enough, I thank the girl for her kindness and consideration and traipse off down a few aisles, take a butcher’s at a few Dalis and Picassos, nothing to write home about and then I come across someone who just might be the ticket. Zhang Enli, never heard of him but his series of still lifes grabbed me by the . . . . Anyway, two and two together, cats and dogs, leaking roofs, why not buckets, memories of the Great Dartford Flood of 1968 when the branch of Woolworth’s was up to its ears and staff were obliged to enter the store (I kid you not) by boat, and I think “Eureka, I’ll write about Zhang Enli. Try to turn him into a household name. Do my bit at least.”
Born in Jilin, China in 1965, a teacher at the Arts & Design lnstitute of Donghua University, Zhang Enli currently lives and works in Shanghai. Doesn’t tell you much but the guy is good and he’s had exhibitions all over the shop.
Art is about focus, the mind homing in on something or some emotion before transferring that energy into an artistic product, notes on a stave, steps on a dance floor, words in the mouth of an actor, paint on a canvas, you get the idea, from the mind through the body into or onto whatever is the chosen medium. For a painter, Enli in this case, there are so many options, so many considerations, so many choices, oils, acrylics, board, canvas, grape stems, representational or abstracted, it’s always ‘make your mind up’ time. Art is mind on matter, even if that matter is the thin air fattened by a few Beethoven chords. Long and the short is that our friend Zhang has a technique and an eye that Pablo would have been proud of. Word of warning: No good admiring it on a computer screen, or worse still a crappy iPad. You gotta go and see for yourself the delicacy of the brushwork, the subtlety of the colours, the perfection of the composition. It raises the humble bucket into an icon, but the icon is dedicated to our humanity, to the essential ordinariness of all of us, our common bond in the occasionally very damp and gloomy human condition. Art is elevation. It makes us feel good and alive, and it is not a luxury, it is oxygen to our soul and any attack on the arts, by reducing curriculum time in schools, or failing to fund local arts, national arts, whatever, is an attack on the species. Forget global warming, the battle for the survival of the human race is an artistic battle. Still, that’s enough from me on my hobbyhorse. Uncle Toby would be proud of me, de gustibus non est disputandum. . . and so on and so forth. Get along to the gallery and get a load of it for yourselves.
Meanwhile, busy busy busy. It’s still chucking it down outside when I head back to Blackfriars and I’m sitting on the train bound for Denmark Hill when the blog editor comes on the mobile blower to say we’ve had another sweet comment on Jonah and Anna-Belle, our running soap, from dear old Molly Rosenberg. She’s such a darling, melts my heart every time. A ray of sunshine on a godawful day!
Note to myself: must get more sleep and slow down!