Monday, November 20, 2017

Tumble into Jackson Pollock


           The National Gallery of Art in Washington DC owns my favorite painting by the mid-20th century American painter, Jackson Pollock, called Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist). So the gallery is the natural venue for Pollock’s largest painting as well, Mural, currently on loan from the University of Iowa Museum of Art.
       Originally painted for the foyer of Pollock’s patron, heiress and gallery owner Peggy Guggenheim, in 1943, it is 20 captivating feet of canvas writhing with bright colors and thick, lavish brush strokes as much in the manner of Pollock’s contemporary, Willem de Kooning, as in that usually associated with Pollock himself. In the painting people find all sorts of things - rising spirits, initials, even spermatozoa.
  So the East Wing’s lovely top floor gallery is a good place to see firsthand all the changes in Pollock’s style, including the final one in his life in which he squirted back paint onto raw canvas with a turkey baster. But despite these forceful images, and Mural's size, it is still Lavender Mist that most powerfully draws the eye to its concentration of seemingly random color drizzles.
       The now-famous technique created separate levels of reality and carries the receptive viewer to incredible depths. Lavender Mist remains emblematic of Pollock’s burst of genius in the early fifties, when the influential critic Clement Greenberg suggested the title. This seems, in retrospect, a too-flip choice (there is no lavender in Lavender Mist), but go judge for yourself.                                 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Publishers Weekly gives my book a starred review

 Napa at Last Light: America’s Eden in an Age of Calamity

James Conaway. Simon & Schuster, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-1-5011-2845-5

In this fascinating and well-researched book, Conaway delivers an unpleasant portrait of California’s Napa Valley in the 21st century. Conaway knows his subject well, having written two previous narratives chronicling the valley’s metamorphosis over the decades (including Napa: The Story of an American Eden). Several sections of the book explore “specific struggles similar to those all over the country but heightened by Napa’s fame and outsized concentrations of wealth and notoriety.” The 1960s through the ’80s were a golden age for Napa. Newcomers filled with idealism flocked to the valley wanting to learn the art of wine making, all the while respecting sound conservation principles. But once big money arrived, personal bonds among the community members began disintegrating and land-zoning and water-use issues divided Napa residents. Once a mainly mixed-agriculture region that also happened to produce wine, Napa morphed into an oenophile Disneyland, according to Conaway, where new-millionaire winemakers have little regard for the natural environment or quality of life for longtime valley residents. This is a stunning and sad look at how an idyllic community (which has recently been ravaged by fire) became a victim of its own success. (Feb.)Reviewed on 10/27/2017