Wednesday, July 26, 2017

If Jackson Pollock Could Write

Book Review: Big Lonesome by Joseph Scapellato

The artist Jackson Pollock was famous for his "action paintings", in which he would tack a large canvas to the floor and drip, splatter, and smear paint across it's entire surface. It was the act of painting that was important, not what (if anything) the painting showed.

His work was performance art, using paint as a medium. He even went to the extent of titling his paintings by number, rather than assigning names, to avoid preconceptions by the viewer.

There are people that can look at a Jackson Pollock painting and see something, who are able to coalesce the random spattering of paint into a theme or a concept or even a scene. Personally I believe this is more a function of their own consciousness, not the intent of the artist. For Pollock, the activity of painting was more important than what was being painted.

Joseph Scapellato's collection of short stories, Big Lonesome, swings between episodes of the real ("Immigrants", "Company"), to random gatherings of words, dripped onto pages apparently left lying on the floor ("Horseman Cowboy"). In the first case, the object is clear to anyone that reads it. In the second case, the reader's ability to discern a message may rely more on wishful thinking and a desire to see something where nothing exists. The mere act of putting words (or paint) on paper does not automatically make it art, or provide it with meaning.

At its best, Big Lonesome provides us with a montage of dispirited characters, coping with the small, individual loneliness that is human existence, and he manages to do it in a distinctive and incisive manner. The "surreal" bits in between intrude into this fabric, but without the redeeming quality of providing a counterpoint. They seem to exist simply to create a perception of artistic merit, but instead appear more like 'Magic Eye' paintings that have been hung among the Masters in an art gallery. If you squint your eyes and tilt your head just right, you may see something, but in the end it diverts and distracts rather than enlightens.

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