Art AbodesI've always had the feeling you could tell quite a lot about an artist by his or her home and studio. My home, for instance, is tastefully modern without being fanatical about it, heavy with wood grains inside and out, somewhat 1970s looking, influenced in its design by Frank Lloyd Wright, unusual and unique, but in no way what you'd call weird looking. My studio is much the same, carpeted, compact, fairly neat, looking more like an office or den than the traditional paint-flecked stereotype most people have of an artist's abode. Except for a large easel in one corner, it might look more like the workplace of an illustrator or draughtsman than a painter. From that, one my guess my work was controlled, modest in size, and, stretching some basic assumptions a little, fairly conservative in both style and content. My home, studio, and work would all seem to be comfortably Post-modern.
On the other hand, if you were to drive up to the house at 830 Fireplace Road, East Hampton, New York, and were told it was once the home of a pair of famous artists, you'd probably be hard pressed in looking at it to even come close to guessing their identities. What you'd see would be a two-story, white-painted, brick farmhouse with Gothic Revival influences. Built in 1874 for a Long Island fisherman and his wife, it is nestled on one and a quarter acres overlooking a small creek on the island's far east end. In 1946, the area was mostly inhabited by farmers and fishermen. That's when Jackson Pollock and his wife, painter Lee Krasner, bought the small homestead with a loan from his New York art dealer, Peggy Guggenheim. A small barn in back they converted to a studio. Outside at least, it looks nothing like the home one might expect of the leading Abstract Expressionist painter of the era.
First of all, one might correctly assume that all (or nearly all) Abstract Expressionists from the 1940s and 50s lived in the city in large studio lofts, sparsely furnished, accessible only by freight elevator, large skylights bathing the airy interior with a consistent northern light, perhaps a small cooking and eating area in one corner, a bed in another, and maybe an old couch with some bentwood chairs completing the decor. The Pollock-Krasner house is none of this. The decor was fairly modern for its time, the walls whitewashed as they had been for generations, the furniture, an eclectic mix, worn but not ratty, lots of books, a reasonably clean house without being necessarily neat. The place had a lived-in look, though you'd never mistake it for the home of a farmer. Yet, except for the art on the walls, neither would it seem to be the home of a hard-driving, hard-drinking, wild-man, abstract artist either.
The main area of interest, however, is not the house but the barn-studio in back. There one walks on hallowed ground. At the door, one trades shoes for white cotton slippers so as not to mar the hardwood floor splattered with layer upon layer of art history. Pollock painted with his canvases unrolled across the floor. A then state-of-the-art hi-fi system drove him as he listened to his favourite jazz albums. This is where Krasner worked too, though not as flamboyantly. From 1946 until Pollock's death in 1956, this is where hundreds of million-dollar paintings were born. Today, on walls that once held fishermen's nets, and later, dripping wet canvases, now we see a documentary photo-essay of Pollock's evolution as an artist. The photos depict his working technique as recorded on film by Hans Namuth and Arnold Newman. Other photos have come from old family albums. And of course, there are paintings by both Pollock and Krasner.
The Pollock-Krasner house is owned today by the Stony Brook Foundation, affiliated with the University of Stony Brook, which is affiliated with the State University of New York, which, presumably, is affiliated with the state of New York. It's open by appointment for tours as well as for those wishing to study 20th century American art. The study centre, housed within the walls of this historic old home, also hosts seminars and workshops for the study of Modern art. And inasmuch as no artist works in a vacuum, special exhibits of other artists working in the area during the mid-century period are also included in the displays. Not to over use an otherwise beleaguered old saying, "you can't tell a book by its cover," it's only once you open the book and get inside the Pollock-Krasner home that you come to see how little resemblence the contents bear to the cover in this case.
Contributed by Lane, Jim
9 May 2001