by Julian Rankin
Jackson Pollock would have dug Fondren. The iconic action painter, known for his frenetic drip paintings, was a man who could appreciate the progress and evolution of a thing, especially the way a simple name grows to become synonymous with creative risk.
I like to think that when time travel is a regular thing, we’ll welcome visitors from the past just as often as we’ll visit it ourselves. So when our local Bill and Ted analogs bring back a motley crew of rambunctious relics, it won’t just be Socrates (“So — Crates”) who discovers us, but makers like Pollock. And, indeed, there’s much more to find in the neighborhood now than there was in 1949, the moment just before Pollock exploded out of relative obscurity into the international spotlight and LIFE magazine posed the question, “is he the greatest living painter in the United States?”
The reason I bring this all up is that he’s in town. Sort of. His work is part of a multifaceted modern art experience now open at the Mississippi Museum of Art. I’ve heard that Pollock drove through Mississippi one time but as far as we know, his paintings have never been publicly exhibited here, certainly not alongside works by more than fifty other modern masters, O’Keeffe and Albers and Rothko and Bearden and more.
Pollock’s signature paintings, webs of interlocking cosmic color, have been described as caffeinated. So he’ll surely need more than one pour when he visits Fondren. We’ll hook him up with the Needle-in- Vein from Sneaky Beans and a nitro cold brew from Cups. (WARNING: Pollock will be smoking a cigarette. Maybe even inside as he orders. Don’t ask him to stop. If he puts it out it will wreak havoc on the space time continuum and Brett Favre will have never been born.)
Some of his most important artistic breakthroughs happened in an old barn on Long Island that he was using as a studio. It was near a creek and marsh. Someone remind me to let him wander back into the residential neighborhoods of Fondren to see how folks have carved out their own self-contained worlds of natural beauty. And yes, I’ll introduce him to Felder Rushing and let the two talk about the similarities between twisting lines of paint and irrepressible kudzu.
Pollock will need to commune with other artists at The Wonderlab and in the countless Fondren studios and workshops and storefronts. And when he wants to see some art of scale, a dominating piece reminiscent of his 1950s canvasses, we’ll take him to any number of locally-made murals on the faces of retro-renovated buildings and have him grapple with the rabbit hole of competing aesthetics coexisting in our post-modern postage stamp. Seeing artists and creative economy at work should make him feel at home, and just as he begins to open up about the genuine kindred-ness he feels with all those who dare to differ, who make their own way, who mold livelihoods out of maddening creative impulse, someone will hand him his lunch of some pig, and a pint, and a fro-yo, and he’ll lose his train of thought in barbecue sauce.
Ultimately, Pollock will head downtown to the Museum to see his art behind glass and reflect on inflation and art markets and the absurdity of celebrity, but also at the transcendent nature of art and time, as he looks up at the swaying Calder mobile and sees de Kooning’s landmark Marilyn Monroe just around the corner of the gallery (and Warhol’s later screen-printed iteration of the sex symbol on one of the final walls). He’ll see the title of the exhibition, When Modern Was Contemporary, and realize that the age of art he helped usher in has passed, but that the modern impulse — the urge to make new maps and explore new roads — is everlasting, a true vehicle for time travel.
Next time you see a heavy smoker with a hair-brained scheme and some paint-stained Levi’s hanging around Fondren Corner, remember that it might be Jackson Pollock time-traveling to Jackson, Mississippi. And when you meet him on the street, don’t you want to be able to say you saw his painting in the flesh while it was here?
When Modern Was Contemporary: Selections from the Roy R. Neuberger Collection is the fifteenth presentation of The Annie Laurie Swaim Hearin Memorial Exhibition Series and is now on view at the Mississippi Museum of Art through October 30, 2016.
Julian Rankin is Director of Marketing and Communications for the Mississippi Museum of Art and a Fondren resident. Rankin is a frequent and valued contributor to Find It In Fondrenâ„¢.