Compiled by Sylvia Winter Pollock
All letters, drafts of letters, notes and photographs are in the Charles Pollock Archives, Paris
The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York,
and the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washingto, D.C
Charles Cecil Pollock born 25 December, Denver, Colorado. Eldest of five sons: Marvin Jay, 1904; Frank Leslie, 1906; Sanford LeRoy (Sande), 1908; Paul Jackson (Jack), 1912, born to Stella Mae (McClure) and LeRoy Pollock, who was born a McCoy and later adopted by a Pollock family.
Family moves to Cody, Wyoming (Charles plays marbles with Buffalo Bill). LeRoy works at the Irma Hotel before becoming foreman of the Watkins sheep ranch.
First formative art experience:
When I was seven or eight my father became foreman of a sheep ranch near Cody, Wyoming. When we moved there I discovered an abandoned schoolhouse nearby with the floor of its one room completely covered with foolscap sheets of Palmer writing exercises. It was some sort of revelation.
Artscribe 8, 1977
Pollock family leaves Cody, heading west; stops in San Diego for a few months.
Family moves to Arizona.
By the time I was ten or twelve I had some vague ambition to be an artist – vague because I had no way of knowing just what an artist was, except that he made pictures. My earliest contact with art at all was the comic drawings of the day and such magazines as The Country Gentleman and Ladies’ Home Journal. Probably there are youngsters all over the country today who are enjoying the same sort of experiences I had as a boy, but in most respects our magazines are better today and many of them reproduce paintings, which is an advantage I didn’t have.
I early formed the habit of saving those pictures that appealed to me and I studied these with great care, always discarding those which no longer seemed good. I had, at about this time, a few lessons in oil painting from an elderly lady who lived out on the desert some miles from our ranch. But these lessons weren’t very frequent, and my notions about art remained unclear. As I remember, the lessons were never very interesting, but riding my pony out through the desert was always fun and the old couple’s home-made house was forever fascinating;
Eventually we removed to a fruit-growing section of Northern California where, entering high school, I had my first opportunity to visit a small town library. And in this library I discovered my first art magazine and a whole new world.
The experience was somewhat overwhelming. My collection of pictures had been growing through the years and little by little my taste and judgment had improved, but all my collection could not stand comparison with the things I was now to discover in this wonderful magazine.
The temptation was too great and I began to cut reproductions from the magazine that I felt I had to have. I guess I didn’t understand what was driving me then, but my whole process of learning depended on my having those reproductions to compare with my other pictures, which I was sure were no longer worthy of admiration. Of course, before long, the thieving was discovered. I confessed my guilt and was asked to pay for the damage, which I did at the end of a summer’s hard work in the rice fields. And in return for the ten dollars I was asked to pay, I was given the magazines. How my collection improved with that stroke of luck.
Jesse James Garrison, radio talk with Charles Pollock (WKAR, East Lansing, Michigan), June 2, 1943
Attends high school in Northern California (Chico), designs high school yearbook. Copies English watercolors and discovers files of Studio magazine, Vanity Fair and The Dial. He has not yet been in a museum or gallery.
In the summer of 1918, works at a lumber camp in Westwood, California.
Moves to Los Angeles and gets a job as copyboy for the Los Angeles Times, then does layout for the newspaper. Develops an interest in Thomas Hart Benton and the Mexican muralists.
In 1922 I set out to begin my professional career and began it by becoming an office boy in the editorial department of the Los Angeles Times, from which I was soon transferred to the art department. At this time I had my first opportunity to visit a museum and see real painting and sculpture. I seem to have been impressed with the modern school, for I remember arguing heatedly about the merits of their work; and Rubens’ paintings, contained in two large volumes I purchased in a bookstore, somehow were disappointing. The Times was a morning paper and so I went to work in the afternoon and worked till midnight, and during the mornings I attended the Otis Art Institute. Two painters came to my attention at about this time who had an important influence on my later development. News of the great Mexican mural movement was beginning to be received in the United States and Rivera’s fresco panel “The Flower Vendor” was shown at the museum. I had known and lived among the Mexicans in Arizona; crews of Mexicans came through our country regularly, cleaning the vast irrigation ditches, and I was always fascinated by their ways and their music, so I had a natural sympathy for all things Mexican. Some of my fellow-workers on the paper were Mexican and so were many of my friends. Knowledge of this great mural movement, so dynamic and all-embracing, gave me my first glimpse of what being an artist could mean. It seemed to have more relation to the world I knew.
Jesse James Garrison, radio talk with Charles Pollock (WKAR, East Lansing, Michigan), June 2, 1943
Studies at Otis Art Institute, Los Angeles.
Charles goes to New York.
For various sorts of reasons I’d gotten interested in Mexican mural painting – partly a romantic idea of Mexico. After all I’d lived in Arizona when Pancho Villa came into the country on one of his raids. . . . A crazy cultural cul de sac, the Mexican thing. I quit the Times with the firm conviction that I was going to go to Mexico, and at the last minute I thought “Christ! I’ve only studied at the Otis Art Institute. I really ought to go to New York and study at the [Art Students] League, then I can go to Mexico – I’ll have a good foundation” So I got on a train and went to New York. I went to see Benton and became a student of his at the League, a monitor in his class, baby-sitter to his young son, T. P., and I was very close to the Bentons they were lovely.
Artscribe 8, 1977
Studies with Thomas Hart Benton at the Art Students League in New York, draws from the model and makes analytical drawings of Renaissance compositional form.
Summer of 1927: “Tramping” through Canada with Bill Mitchell, a fellow student in Benton’s class.
How about coming up here. Have you got a little cash ahead. I do want you to have a little touch of the summer up here before the winter sets in on us[ . . .
Thomas Hart Benton (Chilmark, Massachusetts) to Charles Pollock (36 8th Avenue, New York), 14 July 1928
Dear Son Charles: – Some time has elapsed since the arrival of your very welcome letter – I like to hear from you once in a year at least.
I am still on the road job at Santa Ynez and am getting along fine. Jay and I are batching and recently have had a couple of fellows staying with us. Paul Weise + Fred Shuler from Texas they will be here a few days longer they are working for the contractor The country side is still nice + green with myriads of wild flowers but this will soon be over for this yr, as we are not likely to have any more rain untill next faul. I was down home a couple of weeks ago on a short visit every one was well + happy I guess. Sanford was over to Riverside Jack + Mama at home. Sande came home before I left so I got to see him also. I got a letter from Mama yesterday with Franks letter to her enclosed was glad to hear from you boys in that way. I also had a card from Marvin, he was O.K. though he said he dident particularly care for Cleveland, thought he might seek work in New York later. I wish you boys were located in Calif. so we could see you oftener but such is life, families grow up and scatter, but always try to keep in touch with your mother – because when she dont hear from you she worries. I expect to go home again in a couple of weeks. With best wishes for your health + success in life
I am your affectionate Dad
LeRoy Pollock (Santa Ynez, California) to Charles Pollock (New York), 26 April 1929
Moves into Benton’s old studio at 42 Union Square, New York.
Dear Sons Charles + Frank
Well will write you a line to let you know the part of the family here at Santa Ynez are well + happy that includes Jack + myself. Our family will be more scattered than ever in a few days I guess, as Mama expects to start to Iowa next Monday to visit with her mother.
Mama was up here from the 1st to the 14th + it was quite a relief to get out of cooking + washing dishes for that long. Jack is working with me + is getting along fine he reads quite a lot of good magazines + so doesnt seem to get lonesome for the city
I will probably be here untill Oct. + then I do not know where I will go. How are you boys getting along + do you stand the heat of New York all right. I notice by the papers they have had some pretty warm weather there. It has been quite hot here by spells some days it got up to 106 in the shade, the nights are always nice and cool so a person gets up in the morning very much refreshed.
I havent heard from Marvin for some time except through his letters to Mama. I guess he is O.K. + has a good job in Toronto Canada.
Air travel is sure on the increase out here we are on the route from Los Angeles to San Francisco + some days there is a dozen or more big liners go over.
Jack + I have a lot of fun batching together he is a very good + pleasant companion always in a good mood so we are very happily situated for the summer – we are going to [word illegible] to purchase supplies + will mail this enroute. Write us a letter right away
As ever your affectionate Dad
LeRoy Pollock (Santa Ynez) to Charles Pollock (42 Union Square, New York), 20 July, 1929
Your letter has dumbfounded me and I am inescapably led to write you a long letter to attempt if possible to persuade you of the folly of your present attitude towards the problems of life. I do this without wishing to meddle in your own personal problems but only because I am interested in you and because I have myself gone thru periods of depression and melancholy and uncertainty which threatened to warp all future effort.
I am sorry I have seen so little of you these past years when you have matured so rapidly. Now I have the vaguest idea of your temperament and interests. It is apparent tho that you are gifted with a sensitive and perceptive intelligence and it is important that this quality should develop normally and thoroughly to its ultimate justification in the service of some worthy endeavor and not be wasted.
I know quite well this is no easy matter and that the problems of ajusting oneself to the standards of the contemporary school system, if one be equipped with intelligence and a sensitive spirit are at times almost insuperable. Still wisdom and understanding we must achieve one way or another. If help and sympathetic understanding are not forthcoming from those appointed to instruct them to those to whom this is a vital necessity and not a mere stepping stone to social popularity it must be achieved by self search and slow painful progress.
Now the one hope in this country for improvement in the quality of our national life is the increasing body of protest in the youth and the critical concern of the liberal thinkers and artists and the earnestness with which they accept responsibility for sound and clear thinking on the many aspects of contemporary life. The philosophy of escape to which you have momentarily succumbed is a negation which should have no place in twentieth century America. If one thing is more certain than another it is that we are born into potentially one of the most magnificent countrys in all of history – into a material prosperity before unheard of with a stupendous force at the command of intelligence ready, if we ignore our responsibilities, to destroy us – controlled and directed, the possible means to an ideal and humane civilization. I am unwilling to believe that with your gifts you are willing to forego the challenge, for a contemplative life that can have no value because it ignores realities – for a religion that is an anachronism in this age – for adherence to an occult mysticism whose exponents in this country are commercial savants. I know well that we live in a harsh, blatant, and unsympathetic environment but at any rate it is not a permanent one, it is changing rapidly and it is subject to control. Progress in the past has been made slowly and laboriously over centuries of time and in China and India had crystalized prematurely and imperfectly and tho those peoples had a marvelous culture it was a means nevertheless of subjecting countless millions of human beings to virtual slavery.
The potentialities for the good life are more numerous today than in any other age.
I am delighted that you have an interest in art. Is it a general interest or do you consider you may wish to become a painter? Have the possibilities of architecture ever interested you. This is a field of unlimited rewards for a genuine artist, once intelligence and the unaccountable wealth of the country begin to command real talent. One of the finest architects in the country Lloyd Wright is living and working in Los Angeles. I do not think he is finding an outlet for his capacities but the time may not be far away when such men will be recognized. If architecture appealed to you there might be a splendid opportunity to serve an apprenticeship.
My interest in mural painting, definitely related to architecture, has lead me lately to think of returning to Los Angeles if I could get work with Wright. Are you familiar with the work of Rivera and Orozco in Mexico City? This is the finest painting that has been done, I think, since the sixteenth century. “Creative Art” for January 1929 has an article on Rivera and “The Arts” October 1927 has an article on Orozco. I wish you could see these and also an article by Benton in Creative Art December 1928. Here are men with imagination and intelligence recognizing the implements of the modern world and ready to employ them. In Mexico the dominant mood is one of hope and vitality and is inspired with the desire to once and for all break the bonds of ignorance and slavery that have cursed the people for so many centuries.
It is a beautiful spectacle – the recrudescence of passion and strength in a long enslaved people. But do you recognize that it is the priesthood that have gone down to bitter defeat and that while there is a certain fascination in the apparent peace and calm of their life – they are nevertheless an entrenched power using the weapons of superstition and ignorance to impoverish the people and keep them in subjection and as such are no different than the forces you rebel against in our more modern world – the timidity and fear of political factions chambers of commerce boards of education and greedy wealth. We are tho no longer a people who can be suppressed by superstition and while in the few years of our national life clever and brutal men have secured control of the wealth of the country the machine which has secured them their wealth can no longer be controlled by mere clever strength but requires more and more a higher order of intelligence and technological training. And it is for those with training and vision, the artists and thinkers, to direct the expending of this vast wealth and energy.
Do not believe so easily that you are ill placed in this world and that there is nothing you are fitted to do. There are many pursuits supremely worthy of our best efforts and for which the qualities you possess are a first necessity. Finding your way may be difficult but in the end the turmoil of uncertainty will be only a part of experience. Do not believe in an easy way to freedom. The way to freedom physical or spiritual, to be enduring, must be won honestly.
It would be well to finish school if you can find it at all possible or tolerable not because it means anything in itself but because ground work is necessary however ineptly it is provided. Unless you feel you may be able to get it solely on your own account. I would leave religion out of your reading program until your emotional ajustment to life is more stable. Psychology is valuable reading – so is sociology and the latter is apt to be a bit more realistic and so temper the vagaries of the former.
I would be very glad if you would write me in greater detail of your interests.
Draft of a letter from Charles Pollock (New York) to Jackson Pollock (California), 1929
I have read and re-read your letter with clearer understanding each time. Although I am some better this year I am far from knowing the meaning of real work. I have subscribed for the Creative Art, and The Arts. From the Creative Art I am able to understand you better and it gives me a new outlook on life.
I have dropped religion for the present. Should I follow the Occult Mysticism it wouldn’t be for commercial purposes. I am doubtful of any talent, so what ever I choose to be, will be accomplished only by long study and work. I fear it will be forced and mechanical. Architecture interests me but not in the sense painting and sculpturing does. I became acquainted with Rivera’s work through a number of Communist meetings I attended after being ousted from school last year. He has a painting in the Museum now. Perhaps you have seen it, Dia de Flores. I found the Creative Art January 1929 on Rivera. I certainly admire his work. The other magazines I could not find.
Jackson Pollock (California) to Charles and Frank Pollock (New York), 22 October, 1929
Charles meets Elizabeth (Feinberg) England; they are soon living together. Although they never marry, Elizabeth retains the name Pollock for the rest of her life.
Drives west with his brother Frank. Charles and Jackson go to Pomona to see the Orozco Prometheus fresco.
Charles returns at the end of the summer with Jackson, who moves in with Charles and Elizabeth. Jackson enrolls at the Art Students League to study with Benton. 1934
Charles exhibits for the first time at the New School for Social Research.
He teaches art at the City and Country School in New York, makes motion-picture posters for movie houses.
The practice of teaching art in its many forms at the City and Country School grows out of a firm conviction of the need for developing all forms of expression as the child’s natural, cultural heritage. Experience has shown us that the way to full creativeness in children is by allowing their expression to develop naturally from their experiences and knowledge. This requires, at the minimum, a situation which is conducive to this development.
The first essential for this development is a rich and full program. The second is ample time, quiet and freedom. Time, quiet and freedom to paint, model, dance, sing and dramatize so that the child may bring to fruition an emotion or fleeting image which may have started yesterday in the classroom discussion or the week before while on a trip to the river with its whistling tugs and strange excitement.
Art experiences are not escapes into the unreal nor a refuge from harsh experience. Painting, for instance, is a normal form of emotional expression, a creative activity which is definitely a part of the process of learning and understanding. In addition to being considered as a normal expression of a normal child, painting also has a therapeutic value in the emotional readjustment of certain children. Very often it is successful in readjusting the child who is emotionally centered in people’s reactions to him and who finds emotional release only in the free execution of his ideals in an art form.
Charles Pollock, “Art in an Experimental School,” c. 1932
Charles applies for a Guggenheim grant:
In applying for this fellowship I have a two fold purpose. First: to study at first hand, in Mexico, the original instances of important large scale painting on this continent and to do creative work. Second: to be enabled to observe, study and make notes in the Southwestern states of North America.
I believe large scale painting in Mexico is indicative of a new conception, in modern time, of the nature of painting and the value of the painter and I believe that the same forces, motivations and kind of intelligence at work there are at work here also to bring painting at last to full maturity as a proper and suitable vehicle for recording and clarifying the aspirations of men.
I am interested in Mexico and the Mexican painters because I believe we have as artists a common cause: the possibility of creating an American art form founded on sound principles and comprehensive enough to encompass the whole of American life from Mexico City to New York.
But I realize that Orozco and Rivera have created so splendidly not alone because of a superb technical knowledge, but more particularly because they were vastly interested by the spectacle of life and accepted the challenge it offers the painter; painting honestly and forthrightly the Mexican scene as they felt it.
Therefore I make an especial plea to be enabled to work for a portion of the alloted time in those Southwestern States where the epic of frontier America came to a close. Here the old and the new in America still exist. I was born and raised amongst people who were themselves a part of this great picture. It is my heritage and it is here if anywhere that I shall find the spiritual sources and motives for my conceptions and the stimulus toward greater effort as a painter.
Specifically my aim is to cover thoroughly all of the country from Wyoming to Montana to Texas making sketches and notes of types, places and conditions of life now rapidly disappearing for use in more comprehensive pictures of the American scene.
It is a little difficult to estimate the possible value of one’s own creative effort. I shall of course be the immediate beneficiary of a year of such study. But if I am worthy of the honor I shall of necessity return something to my fellow artists and the cause of painting.
LeRoy dies of malignant endocarditis on 5 March.
My Dear Sons and daughter Charles +Elizabeth Frank + Jack
With a very sad heart I will try to write a little to let you know we are alright. I know you are anxious to hear from us. but I cant ans your good letters will do that later. The earthquake started at six P. M. Friday evening that was the hardest one but they kept coming all night we stayed up until one thirty I couldn’t stay up any longer as that was a very hard day for all of us and I was all in by that time. have had light shocks three + four times a day or night since had one at 7:45 this morning. I have been so shaky just have to hold myself down. didn’t do much damage in L. A. Long Beach is hurt the worst of any place, feel so sorry for the people out in tents tonight as it is raining.
I am sorry you boy’s could not be at home but knew it was impossible. so glad you sent a telegram for Dad’s birthday and wrote him later he enjoyed hearing from you boy’s did him so much good for he was proud of each one. Was so glad he was home we opened up the day bed put on an extra mattress + had lots of pillows to prop him up if he wanted to be. had the bed across the east windows in the dining room where he could see the snow capped mountains with the beautiful green hills below sunshine fresh air and flowers as you all know he loved the out of doors and was near us all the time was perfectly happy never complained. such drenching night sweats and running a temperature all the time was sure hard for a man of his age.
he listened to Roosevelts speech saturday morning and thot it was wonderful. tuned in for the news + music at different times. listen to the Tabernacle Choir from Salt Lake sunday morning about noon Sunday he said he could hardly get his breath and that is the only thing that seemed to be the trouble. Marvin went for the Dr about six, cleaned his teeth while Marvin was gone said how much better his mouth felt but just as Marvin + the Dr was opening the door he says to me, Mother I dont think I can last till morning wanted to say more I know he intended to. he was conscious until the last and passed away in my arms looked so peaceful was so hard to part with him but was so glad he did not have to suffer for years there was nothing could be done to help him he wanted to go if he had an incurable disease. he is at rest in a beautiful quiet mausoleum near the hills. Marvin spoke of cremation but I couldn’t think of having Dad’s body creamated with only a handful of his ashes left. He had a memorial fund which will cover expenses $500.00 which they payed promptly and I am so thankful for that. has some insurance but I have not got that yet. got compensation until the first of March. haven’t got all of that yet. was hard on us last week with all the banks closed but we managed to get through every body was so nice to us. we had very brief services with just the organ, there were lots of beautiful flowers the Boys got a pillow of roses + sweet peas for the family those were his favorite flowers. Dad enjoyed the flowers at home so much. Frank + Jack know we have some lovely roses sweet peas nastursums + others. lots of friends came to see him and always enjoyed seeing them. Marie + Arloie came over and were so kind to us Mrs Miller came over to.
poor Sanford he was over at Arloie’s was just ready to start home when Marvin called them was hurt so terribly to think he wasnt home was just paralysed with grief. I think he has wished for you boys to come home + Elisabeth to a dozen times today he says Mother urge them to come home. and we do want you to I am so glad I have five boys + a daughter to love and know they love me. Dad + I had planned to drive back some time to see you if he got well + able to work again for he wanted to see Elisabeth so much. Marvin went to work monday morning with the boys Dad worked with. I am so glad for him while I hated to see him start on road work think he will get something better soon he will be home to morrow evening will be glad to see him as we are so lone some. Thanks for loving words love to all
Stella Pollock (Los Angeles, California) to her family in New York (addressed to Charles at 46 Carmine Street, New York), 17 March 1933
March: Charles moves to 46 East 8th St.
Dear Frank Jack Charles and Elisabeth
Only a word in this moment of deep sorrow – our wonderful father has gone on to a realm of rest. he was a man whose strength was only surpassed by his courageous, trusting judgement of human values. he was honest and sincere. his absence will leave a gap in our lives which can only be filled by our untiring efforts toward those cultural things which he, as a sensitive man, found so sordidly lacking in our civilization.
Our beautiful mother is bearing up in a strong courageous manner – she is a most inspiring person. the emotional strain is tremendous – she found tears and consolation in your telegram and seems to find strength in her indomitable love for her sons.
These hollow words seem stolid
Sanford Pollock (Los Angeles, California) to the family in New York, March 1933
Benton had been commissioned by the state of Indiana to paint a mural depicting Indiana’s social history for an exhibit at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair.
Charles goes to see the mural, makes sketches in Chicago and at the Fair.
We are eating regularly and shall continue to manage by some means.
Frank has ten days labor with the power company, obtained through our district Councilman . . . The County pays our rent, public utilities and some foods.
I bought a milk goat this week and will get some chickens and rabbits when I earn a few more dollars. With milk, eggs and meat from our back yard ranch we can manage until something can be done about this rotten situation.
Sandy is working with Phil [Guston] and Rube [Kadish] on a mural at the Worker’s School.
Jay Pollock (California) to Charles Pollock (New York), 23 April 1934
Charles travels to Los Angeles with Jackson in a Model-T Ford through Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky mining country, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. Makes sketches all along the way.
Moves to Washington, DC, to work with the Special Skills Division of the controversial Resettlement Administration where he and Ben Shahn supervise mural and craft projects in the Deep South and the Midwest. Travels in the South, sketching.
Designs song sheets for Charles Seeger’s music project with the Resettlement Administration.
Exhibits with Benton, Stuart Davis, Charles Demuth, and others at the Fourteenth Biennial Exhibition of American Oil Painting, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
Political cartoonist and make-up editor for the first United Automobile Workers (UAW) weekly newspaper in Detroit, Michigan.
Daughter Jeremy Eleanor Pollock born on 2 October 1938.
Supervisor, Mural Painting and Graphic Arts, Works Project Administration, Federal Arts Project, Detroit, Michigan.
Paints Social Realist murals in the Water Conditioning Plant in Lansing, Michigan, and in the Fairchild Auditorium at Michigan State College, East Lansing.
The first panel in a series of three which has just been placed, has, as its subject matter the signing of the Morrill Act by President Lincoln. This was, as you all know, an act introduced in our national legislature by Senator Morrill of Vermont to create land-grant Colleges. It was signed in 1862 and was a memorable event in the long struggle to provide greater educational opportunities for the sons and daughters of our land. It was particularly important to the expanding Midwest and the newly-developing West.
Michigan State College has the honor to have been the first of these land-grant Colleges and so it seemed to me most appropriate subject matter for a mural in this setting. In selecting the elements for this design, I have tried to suggest, in painter’s terms, the vision, courage and steadfastness of purpose of President Lincoln and our pioneer forebears who have struggled and died, sometimes so blindly, to create a good life – a society free to all on equal terms.
The millions of our youth fighting in the Pacific and Europe proves that goal has not yet been reached; but it is also testimony that our understanding and faith in the democratic principles has not lessened: it is the will of our people, and our great allies, of all races, that these principles shall be made supreme.
The other two panels which I am designing will attempt to convey some part of the meaning of this great continuing struggle.
The artist has had differing relationships to his fellow citizens at different times in the history of the world. The most important occasions have been those in which a mutual understanding has led to cooperation and mutual respect. There have been periods of State and Government patronage and periods when private individuals were almost the sole support of the arts; and also periods when neither their government nor private persons of wealth cared much about the artist or his work, so that art languished and the artist tended to become anti-social in his behavior.
As Mr. Garrison has pointed out, the private patron, while he is still doing good work here and there, can no longer be counted on to provide a livelihood for the increasing number of skilled and competent artists, nor satisfy the growing urge of the American people to own works of art and to share more directly in the creation of works of permanent value.
For this reason, and clearly in response to social demands, the Federal Government began, in the early thirties, the employment of qualified artists for the decoration of public buildings, and later in cooperation with most of the State governments, set up the Federal Art Projects. This must be reckoned a milestone in our cultural history: a new relationship had been established between our working artists and the public, that reached into every community. The artist felt he was working for all the people; that each and every individual through their municipal, state, and federal governments was participating as a patron in the creation of works of beauty; not works to be seen in the isolation of the museum, but as part of the buildings and institutions where everyday activities were carried on.
The artist comes from the people and his two sources of instruction are the great works of the past and the life of his time. The first provides incomparable standards of accomplishment and the tools and techniques of his trade; the second provides the emotional drive and new concepts of form and meaning.
Jesse James Garrison, radio talk with Charles Pollock (WKAR, East Lansing, Michigan), June 2, 1943
When the WPA project folds, Charles is asked to stay on at Michigan State to finish the mural and to teach in the Art Department. Begins teaching calligraphy and printmaking, later typography and design in 1942.
Where the typewriter is commonplace in commerce and the school, it may seem quixotic to advocate the learning of a respectable writing hand. But in an age where so little is left to individual man to cultivate as a worthwhile wholly personal craft, it could be a modest beginning toward an understanding of beauty and form and expression in more complex things. The very absence of compelling necessity places the acquirement of this skill where it belongs – as a source of pure pleasure in good craftsmanship, practiced because it satisfies, if only in a small degree, man’s basic instinct to create.
Charles Pollock, “Lettering and Handwriting,” c. 1950
Learns and produces fine printing on a Washington Hand Press. Becomes typographic designer to the Michigan State College Press, designs The Centennial Review.
Finishes mural at Michigan State; abandons social realist style. Experiments with abstraction: landscapes, figures, animals.
Abstract painting was simply bringing it back to where I’d started from, if I’d had the sense to stay there.
Artscribe 8, 1977
Takes semester off and returns to Arizona, spending three months painting in the desert.
I would like to come to NY this summer – if it can be managed. The Arizona trip was very profitable in new work and I’d like to see whether a showing is possible. . . .
Charles Pollock (East Lansing, Michigan) to Jay Pollock (New York), 12 February 1946
Designs an official publication of the United States Department of Labor, Monthly Labor Review, which receives an award from the American Institute of Graphic Arts.
One-man exhibition (as Charles Pima), Circle Gallery, Detroit.
Speaks to art students (Delta Phi Delta) at Michigan State University:
The dilemma of the artist is the dilemma of society. It is the social body which cannot find the purpose, the conviction, to cut through habit and sloth and greed to employ mans’ energy creatively.
The artist has managed to survive in a hostile world, although at considerable cost. But he is not happy with his position; and he knows more strongly than most that a system of values without heart, without peace, without means to ornament life richly, cannot long endure.
If education has any real and all-embracing good it must be to create a more humane world – a world of spirit and high principle. And your training here will only have been worthwhile if it has illuminated for you some small part of the world of the spirit; if it has suggested to you the nature of that search for truth and memorable expression which is the true nature of art; and finally, if it has given you the will and the conviction to be constant in the further pursuit of that knowledge. It can at times be a heartbreaking experience, but it is its own reward; and it will be worth any sacrifice you are prepared to make.
“Some remarks to the art student on the dilemma of the artist,” c. 1952
Sylvia Winter, a graduate of the University of Chicago at eighteen, takes classes with Charles in lettering, design and typographic design at Michigan State – where her stepfather, Ernst Victor Wolff, teaches in the Music Department.
This past week has been long and exhausting. I came on here directly to be with my Mother. For a time it seemed the end must be near; but there is now a pronounced turn for the better, and it is felt the danger period has passed.
Your notes for me were charming . . . I reread them, almost in disbelief. How strange is life? How unexpected its turns! I recast these past weeks in every possible light; and I do not hide from you that I am troubled in my mind. But in the end I am lost, and can only find great joy.
Charles Pollock (Deep River, Connecticut) to Sylvia Winter (East Lansing), 20 December 1954
Summer: Charles is in San Miguel Allende, Mexico, with his daughter Jeremy. Sylvia is visiting San Miguel with friends (Jackie and Larry Bernstein) that summer. Charles lives in San Miguel for several months, it is his sabbatical year.
September: Sylvia begins a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree in Graphic Design at Yale University.
You ask what is the attraction of Ajijic. I think if it were not for friends there I would not be compelled. I quote from Malraux – we used this on the Circle Gallery broadside three years ago.
“Art has its impotents and its imposters – if fewer than in the field of love. As in the case of love its nature is often confused with the pleasure it may give; but like love, it is not itself a pleasure but a passion, and involves a break-away from the world’s values in favor of a value of its own, obsessive and all-powerful. The artist has need of others who share his passion and he can live fully only in their company.”
The village is on Lake Chapala, thirty or forty miles from Guadalajara. I’m told D. H. Lawrence once lived in the town of Chapala, which is nearby. Do you know “The Plumed Serpent”?
Charles Pollock (San Miguel, Mexico) to Sylvia Winter (New Haven, Connecticut), 30 October 1955
Although I am finding Mexico much more difficult than I imagined, I don’t suppose it would be fair to blame it all on the country. You know so well the state of my mind. I am not at peace with myself – nor the world. To make matters worse, I can not seem to focus my unrest into anything creative; and this breeds more discontent. It is so long since I have done anything worthwhile that I begin sometimes to fear that my creative energy is depleted.
Still there are moments when I am still full of hope.
Charles Pollock (San Miguel) to Sylvia Winter (New Haven), 1 November 1955
November: Charles leaves San Miguel to live in Ajijic on Lake Chapala.
Driving out of San Miguel I had a bit of regret at leaving. It has, more than any city I have seen in Mexico, visual charm; and especially as seen from the hills outside.
Ajijic is a mere village strung out along the Lake. There is nothing of architectural interest, not even the two churches; but it is warm and friendly. There are burros, and cows and pigs and chickens in the streets. There are a few little shops, but no market as in San Miguel – not the same smells either!
The village is between the Lake and a range of mountains – very close; in front of the village the Lake is perhaps six or seven miles across: and in length I’m told it is seventy-five miles!
Though the name must be very Indian the people here seem to be more strictly Mexican. One sees many more pure Spanish types in the State of Jalisco than elsewhere. There is no sign of wealth anywhere except among the Americans, but the poverty does not seem quite so harsh . . . I feel I will be able to work here.
Charles Pollock (Ajijic) to Sylvia Winter (New Haven), 7 November 1955
Hugh and Francesca O’Neil found a lovely place which they are now turning over to me.
There are two patios and two corrals! It consists of two adjoining properties. One of these had been modernized: a fine large living room, bedroom, bath and kitchen. But during the September storms the roof of the living room caved in! The man who had been living in this house had also leased the house adjacent and cut a door to join the two living rooms. . . .
Painting is still very difficult. I don’t know, but I hope everything will change in the new place. Where I am now the painting light is good, but there are other disadvantages. Still, while I am not happy with my work, I am not so much depressed as before.
Charles Pollock (Ajijic) to Sylvia Winter (New Haven), 14 November 1955
I . . . am charmed with my new place . . .
The paintings that were begun in S. M. [San Miguel] are now finished and out of sight. I think I probably worried them too much. But I will start in a fresh direction. Some drawings seem good.
Charles Pollock (Ajijic) to Sylvia Winter (New Haven), 27 November 1955
Chapala series: paintings and large India ink drawings, with calligraphic elements. Several collages, using local materials.
Charles dreams of leaving Michigan permanently and starting a private press or making handmade paper in Mexico.
Mort Carl [a painter and weaver] and I talked about fine printing and private presses, and the question of the necessity of using handmade paper, and its unavailability in Mexico came in for discussion.
This really fired his imagination because . . . they have quantities of scrap linen and cotton material from their looms. Mort is planning another weaving establishment in San Angel near the University . . . and he speaks of including papermaking and printing in the operation. Does it sound too fantastic?
Charles Pollock (Ajijic) to Sylvia Winter (New Haven), 6 December 1955
Painting is coming better, but what an agony!
Charles Pollock (Ajijic) to Sylvia Winter (East Lansing), 23 December 1955
Sylvia is in her second semester at Yale; Charles is painting in Mexico.
In my own justification, it must be said man was never intended to live alone. I have tried; it doesn’t work, and it cripples the spirit.
Charles Pollock (Ajijic) to Sylvia Winter (New Haven), 6 January 1956
I’m not a hand-press “printer” because I despise machinery, but because machinery isn’t available to lots of people (or at least a few) who have rather sounder ideas of what is worth printing than commercial publishers . . . There is certainly something to be said for mass communication, but the instrument should not be allowed to corrupt the civilized values that make a culture. The highest values will never be comprehended by the mass, only by an elite – by a relatively small group whatever it is called.
Charles Pollock (Ajijic) to Sylvia Winter (New Haven), 9 January 1956
I work a little each day; drawing, not painting, and getting a little closer to what I want. They are big; and I think some life in them. Am trying some collage with drawing – that is ink and line and tone; but these are only partly realized. Don’t know when I will get to painting again. There are big canvasses staring me in the face. But I haven’t the energy yet.
Charles Pollock (Ajijic) to Sylvia Winter (New Haven), 29 February 1956
Will you bring some of your color studies? I do want to see what you are doing in this direction; and I would like to understand something of Albers’ theory and method . . . I have never been able to warm to his painting, but I am sure he is a remarkable teacher.
Charles Pollock (Ajijic) to Sylvia Winter (New Haven), 7 March 1956
Mid-March: Sylvia visits Charles in Ajijic. They decide to marry.
Painting goes very well. I have completely redone the large canvass that was in the studio when you came, and two other large ones besides. They are all, I think, good.
Charles Pollock (Ajijic) to Sylvia Winter (New Haven), 19 April 1956
Charles was not altogether convinced by the Yale Graphic Arts program Sylvia was following (and describing to him in detail in her letters).
Did you read when you were here the Henry Miller article “Literature as a Dead Duck”? I don’t remember that we talked about it. It should be required reading for the Yale people. I fear they confuse book design with package design. Heaven knows we could do with an American publisher who set standards half as good as Faber & Faber. For one thing their books look like serious literature, whereas ours mostly look like another merchandizing item . . . I don’t think American publishers need more excitement in the design of their books. This is surely the deadest of all dead ends. What they need is an intelligent and sensitive consideration of books as serious literature – not pap; not just another package to titillate the interest of a misguided public.
But the publishers are presumably happy with things as they are. But are students at Yale to find out for themselves – if they ever do – that it is a fraud. Maybe no one cares, maybe literature really is a dead duck. And the other arts tambien.
Charles Pollock (Ajijic) to Sylvia Winter (New Haven), 30 April 1956
Today, June 1st 1956, my daughter graduates . . . I will not be present at the graduation for I am in another country 4000 miles away pursuing an elusive muse.
Perhaps this has always been an occasion of some importance to the young – childhood and elementary learning, which often must be rote learning, are left behind: the adult world is on the threshold, and self-discovery in a new dimension approaches – but I have forgotten. Or, more accurately, I never knew. For this experience I by-passed, leaving high school in the last year to begin a search that took me down innumerable blind alleys and obscure pathways – always the certain fate of the ill-prepared . . . In the summer of 1954 and again in 1955 I spent some weeks in Mexico . . . the realization of a dream from my student days, when it seemed – for how short a time – that Mexico was overflowing with passion and creative energy. When I had the urge to reside there; to become, as I thought, a part of the new renaissance; but the urge was not strong enough to overcome unfavorable circumstances, nor the vagaries of an uncertain mind . . . [I] have no church affiliations, and no strong belief in the integrity nor efficacy of any of the constituted religions. This is not to say, however that I am atheist in my convictions. Quite the contrary. Though it would be difficult to express precisely in words my personal relationship to the manifold mysteries of life . . .
Mexico notes, June 1956
Have made two fine drawings this week. Hope for one or two more.. . .
. Charles Pollock (Ajijic) to Sylvia Winter (East Lansing), 20 June 1956
July: In Taos, New Mexico, with Sylvia; friendship with Ed Corbett.
August: Charles and Sylvia return to Michigan. Jackson is killed in an automobile accident August 11th; Sylvia is with Charles when he gets the news on the telephone from Elizabeth. Charles goes to New York for the funeral.
Mid-September: Charles returns to MSU, teaching lettering and graphic design. Sylvia begins her second year at Yale.
October: Charles is finishing the Mexican paintings and drawings in preparation for an exhibition; he is also trying to modify an architect’s plans for the new Art Department building at Michigan State, the Kresge Art Center.
I keep awfully busy with details . . .
The building plan looks hopeless. The man simply can’t organize space and no one knows what to do about it. I’m torn between wanting to propose something and knowing it will only be frustration in the end.
There does not seem to be any way to be a part of something. I boil and explode inwardly and it isn’t good.
Charles Pollock (East Lansing) to Sylvia Winter (New Haven), 16 October 1956
I am so pleased with the show that I think there should be no difficulty finding a gallery. Still I know it is not an easy matter and I am prepared to be disappointed.
Charles Pollock (East Lansing) to Sylvia Winter (New Haven), 21 October 1956
22 October–9 November: Exhibition of the work done on sabbatical at the Literature and Fine Arts Gallery on the Michigan State campus. Daughter Jeremy comes from Ann Arbor for the opening.
The day was perfect. Jeremy arrived at the gallery at 4. There were many friends who had known her as a child, astonished to see her again. I don’t really know which was the greater attraction, Jeremy or the paintings. But I had many compliments on the work and in general there was an air of excitement.
Charles Pollock (East Lansing) to Sylvia Winter (New Haven), 23 October 1956
I was feeling a bit low last night when I called, and immediately the weight was lifted. It is hard for me to be always in good spirits. As you know, so many things that impinge on my existence here are depressing and destructive. One tries not to be angered, not to be contemptuous, not to be arrogant. Too often all of one’s energy is drained in this effort, leaving only burnt ends for creation. And then the pain becomes unbearable: loneliness has so many faces. If only one could be, somehow, unknowing.
I have long since become un-political and I have no idea how to solve the fearful problems of the world, but I am sure we are making a shambles of moral leadership and must continue to do so so long as we continue in our present path of respecting only materialism.
Charles Pollock (East Lansing) to Sylvia Winter (New Haven), 4 November 1956
I suppose I am fearful of making a fatal mistake as a father and I am not skillful at handling difficult relations between people . . .
Last night there was a staff meeting and I declined with some heat to accept nominations to two committees . . . Does this prove that I have learned something, or only that I am stubborn, a perfectionist, and sometimes a snob? I hate psuedo [sic]-democracy; and I hate incompetence and the place was full of both last night. Some of my colleagues were surprised, others pained at the implications.
Charles Pollock (East Lansing) to Sylvia Winter (New Haven), 6 November 1956
Sylvia meets Charles for Thanksgiving in New York.
So many things to remember of our holiday . . .
Charles Pollock (East Lansing) to Sylvia Winter (New Haven), 28 November 1956
I do look forward to our life together, wishing only that I were not so debt-ridden and poor: that my position here was stronger, and that we might start with more freedom of choice as to how we will live. Though I worry about these things more than you, I won’t allow them to discourage me. It is already much too late for that.
Charles Pollock (East Lansing) to Sylvia Winter (New Haven), 6 December 1956
Charles is teaching in Michigan. Sylvia is finishing her MFA at Yale.
Saw the model for the new building today. I must confess it to be better than I believed possible. The siting in particular is good beyond my wildest dreams; however the detail handling could still ruin everything.
Charles Pollock (East Lansing) to Sylvia Winter (New Haven), 8 January 1957
I sometimes fear you will find my temperament more difficult to live with than you imagine. You must know I am anti-social; I hate meeting new people; I am excessively shy – and intolerant . . . Do you recognize my shortcomings?
Charles Pollock (East Lansing) to Sylvia Winter (New Haven), 25 February 1957
Did my last letter sound awfully pessimistic? I am not ever about us, you know; but too often the situation here becomes unbearable. If only I weren’t so convinced that everywhere is the same. There are compensating advantages in New York, but I don’t really like the cold, and the grime, and the rush. San Francisco seems the only place for decent living, but it has been more than twenty years since I was there. It has changed.
Though this seems like such a poor place, my classes are sometimes good for the spirit. Graphic is nothing – only a dull routine, but my lettering classes are doing quite wonderful things. I look forward to every session with pleasure. If only these poor students were not so ill-prepared, if only they had some background; or lacking it, some burning desire to overcome their handicap. Where, in this Tower of Babel, can they find what is needed? If they get it in this institution it will be the merest chance. Radio, television, the movies can’t provide it. The serious magazines are too few: there are at last good things in the paperbacks, but will they be able to read them?
Charles Pollock (East Lansing) to Sylvia Winter (New Haven), 8 March 1957
Mid-March: Spring vacation in New York with Sylvia. They make plans to marry in August in the mountains of Colorado where Sylvia’s parents will be on vacation.
[My mother] is returning to Iowa soon. We might stop there on the way [to Colorado]. I had mentioned to her the possible disapproval or misunderstanding of many relatives. Her reply was that it was none of their business! She wishes us much happiness.
Charles Pollock (East Lansing) to Sylvia Winter (New Haven), 15 April 1957
Have been working late hours on several etchings. They all look promising, though I’m having frightful difficulties getting the tone values I want. These processes require infinite patience and I have to keep the thing going over much too long a time.
Charles Pollock (East Lansing) to Sylvia Winter (New Haven), 12 May 1957
This is a day of sorts at [Michigan] State. The great Diem, President of South Viet Nam, has been here to receive an honorary degree. All the apparatus of the administration was exerted to see that everyone turned out for the occasion – the staff fully panoplied; classes were dismissed. It was more than suggested the gentleman would make a statement of some import, evidently political – a major address. I’m told he said hardly more than “I thank you for your generosity”.
Being not very curious, and stubborn besides, I did not attend. . . .
Don’t mind my moroseness. It doesn’t creep into my painting, which assures me that I am still in good health . . .
Charles Pollock (East Lansing) to Sylvia Winter (New Haven), 15 May 1957
There is something soul-chilling about the working out of the American Dream. Will all of Western man succumb to this in the end?
Charles Pollock (East Lansing) to Sylvia Winter (New Haven), 18–19 May 1957
August: Charles and Sylvia drive to Colorado via Tingley, Iowa, where Charles introduces Sylvia to his mother, Stella.
Charles and Sylvia are married by a Justice of the Peace in Estes Park, Colorado, on 12 August. Their witnesses are Sylvia’s mother Théa and her stepfather Ernst Victor Wolff. They spend a month in Mexico; begin a lifelong friendship with Mathias Goeritz, who Charles met at Michigan State in May.
September: meets Clement Greenberg at Adja Yunkers opening in New York.
Becomes familiar with Washington Color painters.
March: Charles and Sylvia go to Tingley to visit Charles’s sick mother, Stella; she dies 19 April at age eighty-two. Charles returns to Tingley for the funeral; later designs her tombstone.
September: Charles suffers a minor heart attack. Sylvia takes over teaching some of his classes for six weeks; Michael Cimino, a student of Charles’s in graphic design, also teaches some of his classes.
Cimino applies for admission to the Yale University School of Art and Architecture. He and Charles stay in contact over the years.
[Cimino] is an exceptional student: immensely talented, imaginative, and hard-working. Indeed he is the most naturally talented student I have had in many years of teaching. In spite of his talent he is a modest and cooperative individual – sure of his direction, but always ready to learn.
Letter of recommendation from Charles Pollock to Alvin Eisenman at Yale University (New Haven), 1 April 1959
December: Mexico City. Charles and Sylvia stay with Mathias Goeritz, they visit Oaxaca and Mayan ruins.
First black and white collages, leading to the Black and Gray series.
Sabbatical year with Sylvia in Europe. Charles is, at sixty, the first of the Pollock brothers to cross the Atlantic. They travel in Great Britain and meet the gallery owner Leslie Waddington, who puts them in touch with the sculptor Maxime Adam-Tessier in Paris. Drive from Paris to Lisbon, following the route of Santiago de Compostela in France: Chartres, Saint-Savin-sur-Gartemps, Poitiers, Angoulême. Becomes passionately enamored of French Romanesque architecture and is moved to tears in Chartres and, later, at Le Thoronet.
Together they visit the Lascaux caves and, in Spain: San Sébastian, Salamander, Tolédo, Madrid and Mérida.
In October, they drive from Lisbon to Rome via the southern coast of Spain – Malaga, Seville, Avila, Barcelona, Cadaquès and the southern coast of France – Perpignan, Carcassonne, Cassis, Aix-en-Provence, Toulon, Matisse’s Vence chapel, the Léger museum in Biot, the Fondation Maeght, St Tropez, Le Thoronet, Nice, Monaco. In Italy, they take the coastal route: Genoa, Pisa, Lucca.
They settle in Rome where Charles meets the painter Piero Dorazio and, through him, Turcato, the Pomodoro brothers, Herbert Ferber, Arman, Santomaso. They meet the photographer Aaron Siskind at opening of a Jackson Pollock exhibition at the Marlborough Gallery. They spend time with him and with American painters in Rome that year: James and Charlotte (Park) Brooks, Giorgio and Linda Cavallon.
Two days ago (the 2nd day in Rome) we read in the paper that an exhibition of Jack’s work was opening at Marlboro-Roma. Naturally, we went to the opening. In consequence we have met and made friends with a number of interesting people, one of whom, Piero Dorazio, Clem [Greenberg] had asked us to look up. The exhibition appears to be a great success, with many works sold. We are told this portends great things in Rome. The Pomodoro brothers, both sculptors, came from Milan for the opening. Afterwards to dinner, 50 people, more or less, and then a nightclub.
This afternoon we had lunch with Dorazio and his wife in a square which, among other things, has one of the earliest Baroque churches – built by Borromini. This church was ordered by Innocenti X in the 17th century. The ajacent palace has recently been restored for use by the Brazilian Embassy. Palestrina performed there. The Ambassador is a collector of modern painting. We were taken to see his collection: it is first rate and accords beautifully with the setting. . . . After a month and 4000 miles of travel we were satiated emotionally. We have not sought out anything in Rome, but it confronts you at every turn.
Barcelona, as a city, pleased us more than Madrid. Perhaps in part because one remembers the courage of the Catalonians in the civil war. There is a fine museum of Catalonian art of remarkable quality and exhibited with great skill and taste.
The Gaudi church was unbelievable. The first impression suggests it had been ravaged by bombs but it was never completed and stands as it was left – the final testimony of a great man. In many ways it is incredibly ugly, but one soon forgets this impression in admiration of the boldness of structural invention and the richness of detail, reminding one frequently of [Louis] Sullivan.
Our next great pleasure was at Aix-en-Provence where we visited Cézanne’s home and studio. One sees Cézanne everywhere – in the trees, the mountains and the sky. Afterward, the Musée Grimaldi at Cap d’Antibes where there is an interesting collection of Picassos shown with Greek and Roman inscriptions. His War and Peace mural at Valluris was somehow less interesting in the context. The Matisse chapel at Vence was pure delight.
Perhaps because of near exhaustion, emotional and physical, we were not impressed with our first contact with the Italian Renaissance. Pisa, the Leaning Tower and all seemed only curious; and even the buildings in Florence disappointed, though the countryside was beautiful. There are some fine things in the Uffizi, but except for what I take to be recent installations of the early schools, a muddle of presentation. The Piero della Francesca murals at Arrezzo have all but vanished – a great pity.
Charles Pollock (Rome, Italy) to Sande and Arloie McCoy and Jay Pollock (Deep River, Connecticut.), 28 October 1962
[Sanford Pollock changed his name to McCoy, his father’s original name. Jackson and Sande were both looking for work at the time, and two members of the same family, living at the same address, could not be on the WPA payroll. Sande later referred to his name change as “political”.] WHY IS THIS HERE??
We are settled in Old Rome – in something resembling a cold-water flat: very little furnishing and a gas-bomb for heat. It is 45°, just on the uncomfortable side, especially when everything is stone or concrete. But the flat is habitable, and I am working. I hope to have 20 or so paintings by 1 June. At the moment I am appalled thinking of the cost of shipping them home.
I am painting on hemp. It looks and stretches like linen, I am told it was used by Titian.
The Roman art world isn’t particularly interesting. Marlborough recently opened here – there was a retrospective of Jack’s work the week we arrived. The gallery has space and looks promising. However I have the impression there are few serious or adventurous collectors in the country. And with one or two exceptions I haven’t seen any exciting work.
Charles Pollock (Rome) to Barnett and Annalee Newman (New York), 7 December 1962
Makes a series of seventeen large paintings (the Rome series) in which the black shapes of his recent work are now on colored grounds, and five aquatints at the Stamperia Romero in the same style.
During the sabbatical year in Italy, Charles and Sylvia visit Orvieto, Urbino, San Sepolcro, Bologna and Milan, looking at the Piero della Francescas and seeing, for the first time, the other Italian painters Charles had always admired: Mantegna, Signorelli, Parmigianino, Caravaggio, Tiepolo. They visit San Gimignano, Siena, Perugia, Florence, Naples, Paestum, Ravenna, and other places.
In London I was told (not in a hostile way) “America is a brutal country”. It was a severe indictement, but subsequent events – the racial violence, the bombings and murders, the ruthless determination of large segments of American society to deny humanity to a minority people – confirm something about the judgement. But such incidents are not new in American life and it was evident that something else was meant by the remark. What was meant was not the brutality of racists, though the record is one of almost unrelieved violence, but the brutality of the unthinking, the mindless insensitivity which characterizes more and more of our collective life .
Four hundred years of hostile encounters with the Indians has not yet taught us how to deal with them honorably. New York State’s current efforts to abrogate longstanding and solemn agreements with the Seneca Nation in the name of “progress” and neccessity is but the most recent example. And the moral training provided by this long experience has hardly equipped us to deal with the “Negro”.
Sabbatical diary, Rome notes, January 1963
I had no idea painting materials would be so difficult (partly the language barrier). I discovered I couldn’t work on prepared canvas. Fortunately Dorazio had given me the name of a man who makes a ground almost exactly like the one I am used to. Linen doesn’t seem to be available in the size and weight I need (nor cotton duck) so I settled for something called canapa, which is hemp. It’s a little rough but works well.
I have painted 9 paintings and made innumerable drawings . . . they seem to me to be my best work . . .
Meanwhile we aren’t charmed with Rome, although in truth we have made no extended effort to see the city. It has been cold, we’ve hit a bad winter. This, plus the high cost of living which we hadn’t anticipated has seriously cramped our movement.
Charles Pollock (Rome) to Clement Greenberg (New York), 22 January 1963
A New York Times editorial (commenting on the destruction of a fine group of nineteenth-century commercial buildings on Worth Street) says that New Yorkers do not know what their heritage is. Sullivan and Wright have suffered in like manner.
A poster – in the Alhambra, of all places – invites Europeans to visit America to see the Gutzlen Borghina’s pretentious and empty carvings on a mountain in Idaho, which many Americans revere while we destroy our true heritage.
Unesco pointed out, in late 1962, the importance of preserving our rural environment. An admonishment that now applies to Western Europe as well as America. In Europe, one only needs to drive from Rappalo to Pisa, part of the Italian Riviera di
Levante, to discover what an affluent society can make of an otherwise attractive and lovely countryside . . .
Reston speaks of “Cocacolonialism”. I saw it rampant in Mexico in 1956, and it is inescapable in several countries of Europe now, in 1962–63. It is true that here, unlike Mexico, one can at least escape the monotonous dirge of the juke-box.
Sabbatical diary, Rome notes, February 1963
Charles and Sylvia tour Sicily in March, then go to Greece in April. In June, to Venice and the Palladian villas near by.
In Spain the El Grecos, Velasquez and Goyas in the Prado were magnificent, but even more interesting for me was Moorish architecture and the Catalonian museum in Barcelona. . . . Moorish architecture generated the most curiosity and speculation, although one is awed by the Greek temples.
The Matisse chapel at Vence was very moving, even for us who have little religious sentiment; it is a pure beauty, and we wonder whether Ronchamps will be equally stirring. I have an uneasy feeling it may not. I begin to distrust most of the canons of modern architecture: they seem to me to have spawned a vaster sterility than any previous idiom – unless it be 19th-century Victorian. Generally, contemporary architecture photographs well, but the photographs are deceptive.
We have, however, seen two or three beautifully-designed museums. The Grimaldi in Antibes, the newer rooms in the Uffizi, the National Museum of Sicily in Palermo, these last two by Carlo Scarpa; and the Capodimonte in Naples. They are quite unlike anything to be found in the United States.
Charles Pollock (Rome) to Mathias Goeritz (Mexico City), 25 April 1963
Have I written since Greece? We were there for a week at the end of March and were enchanted. It was impossible in so short a time to see everything of interest. But trips were taken every day from Athens with excellent guides: Cape Sounion, Delphi, Corinth, Mycenae and Epidaurus . . .
An unexpected pleasure were the examples of Byzantine art in Athens, a small church at Daphni, and a remarkable building – a monastery, Ossias Lucas – on the way to Delphi. In the end, I . . . found the Byzantine strange and arresting. The Greek temples are perfect; too perfect for our time. The Byzantine is imperfect, wonderfully perverse and inventive. In France it was Romanesque that appealed most; in Spain the Moorish and Catalonian.
We were in Sicily last week. Again many Greek temples but also some curious mixtures of Byzantine, Norman and Moorish. The island is poor but lovely, especially at this season.
In Athens, in a small hotel lobby . . . I spotted Cavallon . . . He told us Jim Brooks was on his way to Rome. . . .we all had dinner together last night and tomorrow will all, along with Aaron Siskind, go for a day’s visit to the Etruscan tombs at Tarquinia.
Before going to Greece, I spent a week making 5 acquatints at an atelier here. The gallery takes half the edition, but they do all the work and they are very skilled. They like my work and have proposed that I show my paintings at the Galeria Pogliani. Nothing concrete yet but it appears a show may be possible early in June. I can’t conceive that a show here will cut much ice one way or another but it can’t do any harm either and the gallery is a good one. Jim has seen my work of this year and likes it.
Charles Pollock (Rome) to Sande and Arloie McCoy (Deep River), 27 April 1963
We went to Greece with Vincent Scully’s recent book on the Greek temples . . . One may speculate how the architecture would have appeared in its pristine state and in full color: the erosion of time has softened the one and removed the other, so that what remains is pure proportion and I find it too pure . . . Archaic sculpture however has a special kind of presence, bathed in a haunting inwardness which time has hardly affected . . .
Unexpectedly I found Byzantine art and architecture especially rewarding in some curious way. Byzantine is imperfect, a little perverse – though not in the Baroque way – and wonderfully inventive.
Charles Pollock (Rome) to Gomer and Helen Jones (Okemos, Michigan), 29 April 1963
June–July: One-man show of the Rome paintings and prints at the Galeria Pogliani, Rome.
The opening . . . at Pogliani came off very well. It is an attractive gallery and I am pleased with how the paintings look there.
Charles Pollock (Rome) to Piero Dorazio (Philadelphia, Pa.), 20 June 1963
Hope the Rome show went well, though the going well or badly of shows is really meaningless; what looks like a flop can be the start of something; the show that sells out can be the finish of something . . .
Postcard from Clement Greenberg (New York) to Charles Pollock (Okemos), 19 July 1963
Charles and Sylvia go from Rome to Great Britain via Basel, Colmar, Ronchamps, Autun, Vezelay, and Paris, where they spend a week. They spend the month of July in St Ives, Cornwall, where they meet Patrick Heron and other English painters.
On their return to Michigan, Charles begins painting in a new style, full of color.
I have been invited to show at the Whitney Annual which opens on the 11th of December. . . .
I have had a rather lengthy correspondence with a Mr Francis V. O’Connor who is working on a Phd thesis at Johns Hopkins, and who is trying to straighten out a number of facts about Jack. I have entered into the correspondence because he appears from his letters to be an intelligent man, and because what he is attempting is worth doing.
Charles Pollock (Okemos) to Sande McCoy (Deep River), 7 November 1963
We are doing our best to tolerate what we find here. A year in Europe is, in this one respect, a bit unsettling. Europe hasn’t yet accepted or acquired all of the unhappy evils of this technological age. Perhaps they will, given enough time. But for the moment the difference is important.
We are going to New York . . . though we can’t really afford it. I am included in the Whitney Annual this year, and we think we ought to go. We will of course see Sande.
Charles Pollock (Okemos) to Jay and Alma Pollock (Monterey Park, California), 21 November 1963
They spend time in Deep River with Sande’s family, visit Sande at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Sande dies of lymphoma 27 December: Sande’s wife Arloie, Charles and Sylvia, Reuben and Barbara Kadish and other friends are in attendance.
11 December 1963–2 February 1964: Whitney Annual of Contemporary American Painting.
Retrospective exhibition, The Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Retrospective exhibition, Kresge Art Center, East Lansing, Michigan.
That sensitive inner being that was Sande always left me with the impression when around him that a new
dimension had been added to our relations, and to lose him seems to diminish us all.
Jay Pollock (Monterey Park) to Charles Pollock (Okemos), 6 February 1964
Brings visiting artists and critics to Michigan, among them Jack Bush, Anthony Caro, Piero Dorazio, Clement Greenberg, Barnett Newman.
We look forward with pleasure to your visit . . . The symposium will be held either in the afternoon or the evening of April 13. Each of you will be asked to make a brief opening statement and the meeting will proceed from there. You and Barney [Barnett Newman] can agree what direction the discussion should take, but you might like to send me some questions you would enjoy answering . . .
Charles Pollock (Okemos) to Piero Dorazio (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 31 March 1964
Keep going, you’re on the way. Obviously, getting rid of primed canvas was a liberation for you, as it has been for others lately. The fact that there are others doesn’t matter. Nobody can take your color away from you.
Clement Greenberg (New York) to Charles Pollock (Okemos), 16 July 1965
Having you here was important for us – the school – and important for me. Everyone that counts in the department liked you, and liked what you had to say. I know that several of them are more clear-headed about painting in consequence.
As for me? Well, I can say I’ve been pushing hard, and I think to some effect. The summer isn’t over yet, by the end of the month I hope to have a good body of work and to have made a considerable advance.
Charles Pollock (Okemos) to Jack Bush (Toronto, Canada), 2 August 1965
Above all, keep painting + don’t judge the results too soon . . .
Postcard from Clement Greenberg (New York) to Charles Pollock (Okemos), 10 August 1965
In painting affinities are more important than categories. These paintings are optical to be sure, but they are not OP: neither are they precisely hard-edge, though there are edges and contours. They are not by intention fundamentally geometric: if there is a suggestion of the organic, the reference is too intangible for easy identification. Colour – the resonance of colour, and the tensions and fluxes of this resonance – and luminosity, is the means by which a dialog is possible between the painter and his world.
Statement about his 1965 paintings
September–October: Visiting critic in painting, University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Fine Arts.
One-man shows at Gertrude Kasle Gallery, Detroit (January), and at Henri Gallery, Washington, DC (September).
April–May: Sylvia in Paris to learn French; Charles joins her there early June.
It is just 5 weeks until I see you. Will you have an accent? Shall I now say “my French wife”?
Charles Pollock (Okemos) to Sylvia Pollock (Paris, France), 2 May 1966
Prompted by your reading, I have taken up the Myth of Sisyphus again to look into it. And what do I find in the 2nd paragraph of the preface but the following “In a more lyrical form, they all illustrate that essential fluctuation from assent to refusal which, in my view, defines the artist and his difficult call”. But this defines the dilemma of any of us who aspire to a sense of style – and I don’t mean the grand style, – merely the simple goodness which style at every level has always had.
Charles Pollock (Okemos) to Sylvia Pollock (Paris), 10 May 1966
I didn’t see [Paul] Johnson’s reference to “moderate intellectuals”. That of course is what they all want. Non-thinking intellectuals. You program them in a certain way, like a computer, and you get certain answers. Anything else is rocking the boat. . . .
Everything about Viet-Nam is depressing. But it is something that opposition to our involvement seems to grow.
Charles Pollock (Okemos) to Sylvia Pollock (Paris), 17 May 1966
I want to see everything you have seen. It will be fun. The churches, the gardens, the streets, the museums. Are you making notes? Do you take photographs . . . ? A story suggests that something in the way of decent parks may be beginning in N.Y. . . . But I can’t imagine that they would ever have the civilized good sense to ban transistors and dogs. Isn’t it Paris which has traditionally accorded the individual the greatest privacy and freedom? Naturally they are, the Parisians, sensible enough to see that forbidding certain things doesn’t destroy this freedom.
Charles Pollock (Okemos) to Sylvia Pollock (Paris), 26 May 1966
Charles and Sylvia travel from Paris to Amsterdam and London, where they visit with Sylvia’s aunt, Ella Winter and her husband Donald Ogden Stewart, and Sylvia’s old friends Jerry and Diana Cinamon.
Charles applies for a Guggenheim grant.
Daughter Francesca McCoy Pollock born 23 March.
Guggenheim grant, 1967–68.
National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship.
American Federation of Arts (AFA) travelling exhibition, 1967–68.
June: One-man show at Gertrude Kasle Gallery, Detroit.
Michael Cimino sends Charles the scenario of a film he wants to make.
I am incapable of saying anything meaningful about the work beyond the fact that I found it interesting. To visualize it expanded and given flesh in cinema form is beyond me. I see relatively few films, and bring no developed critical criteria to those I do see: and I have never before read a script.
Only one detail strikes me as odd – even incongruous – that is the way Kef carries a lithographic stone around with him. Surely even an amateur could arrange this matter more conveniently. Moreover if the time is now, few artists of today work on a scale so small that the stone can be carried about in the manner indicated.
Charles Pollock (Okemos) to Michael Cimino (Beverly Hills, California), 23 April 1967
Thanks for proposing me to show in the Fall opening of the new Sachs Gallery. I knew the name, but have never been in the gallery and know nothing about what they have been showing. But I’m sure you must think it worthwhile.
My show in Detroit looked good. Only two paintings sold however. The summer has started well and the coming year looks promising.
Though I sometimes have fearful doubts, I think my painting is moving somewhere.
Charles Pollock (Okemos) to Clement Greenberg (New York), 31 August 1967
Charles’s contacts with artist friends and with Clement Greenberg lead to the enrichment of the Michigan State University Kresge Art Museum through gifts: paintings by Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, William Baziotes, Esteban Vicente.
We had a fine time in New York. It was important for me to see both Jack’s and Jules’s shows. Also saw a very good Dzubas at Brandeis and an interesting exhibition of Synchromists, Wright, Russell, Bruce and others . . .
News of the Louis gift has everyone agog here. It is a marvellous addition to the collection, which – thanks to you – is becoming an important one. I’m grateful to you for including me in the picture – it’s amusing that some people here think I’ve manoeuvred it all.
The year ahead is as much work as possible – and watching the baby grow.
Charles Pollock (Okemos) to Clement Greenberg (New York), 3 November 1967
You’re the one who deserves the credit for getting the Louis, the Nolands . . . we wouldn’t have known of MSU’s situation but for you.
Postcard from Clement Greenberg (New York) to Charles Pollock (Okemos), 12 December 1967
We are all pleased with your offer [of William Baziotes’s The Schoolroom] . . . The Louis is hanging – and very impressive. You must know that through André [Emmerich] we will also receive a Vicente . . . It is ironic that Detroit, which could well afford all of these – and more – will soon have to take second place to Kresge, thanks to you.
I am working hard. It’s better than before, but I am uncertain if it is good enough. Godfrey [at University of Pennsylvania] has offered me an 8 week session in the Spring – one day a week (Piero’s suggestion). I think I will accept since it will give us an ideal opportunity to explore the East for a location.
Charles Pollock (Okemos) to Clement Greenberg (New York), 20 December 1967
30th Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting, The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
Spring: Visiting critic in painting, University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Fine Arts.
September: Retires from teaching in Michigan and moves to New York, where he has a studio on the Bowery.
October: One-man show, Gertrude Kasle Gallery, Detroit.
What a wanton extravagant people we Americans are. It’s in our cars, our swagger. I’ve seen some studios in Soho: they make me envious. I’ve seen a few galleries of an incredible space, but nothing to show in there. New York is a brutal city, full of con men. If something good was generated here in the 20s, 30s or 40s, I am convinced it can’t happen again.
In our “heedless vitality” (Tom Wicker’s phrase) we succeed in making only an inhumane world. When I go to the studio I see slogans: “Keep Little Italy Clean”. But around the corner, on Prince, it’s a shambles of filth and rotting Cadillacs.
Handwritten note September 1968
Things are more or less settled with us. Our apartment is comfortable, in a pleasant, even elegant, building (circa 1900) designed, I am told, by Stanford White . . . I find it curious that an odd circumstance should place us in such a building, for my disenchantment with so-called “modern” architecture leads me more and more to prefer earlier styles which were good enough to stand endless replication . . .
There are no regrets about the move East, and no major difficulties. We are of course appalled at the state the country is in, and sometimes wonder how long anyplace will remain a fit place in which to live . . .
My reading is, as usual, pretty desultory: the journals, of course, and recently Marcuse, Malcolm X and Susan Sontag.
I have a studio on the Bowery, adequate in terms of space, but mostly unsatisfactory light. It is also inconvenient and depressing. However the rent is reasonable and it will do for this year at least. I think we are all in one kind of bind or another. This seems a particularly difficult time for the artist, but perhaps it has always been so. But there can never have been a time when there were so many varieties of phoneyness, all of them promoted by forces inimical to art.
Charles Pollock (New York) to Jonathan Pollock, Charles’s brother Frank’s son (Pasadena, California), 16 October 1968
October–November: Exhibits and speaks at Bennington College, Vermont.
Our 2 years in the city have been moderately pleasant. We live quietly and see little of what is called the “action”. The city is unspeakably dirty and uncivil: perhaps, in the end, an unfit place to live. We simply don’t know what the alternatives are, nor how to afford them.
Meanwhile, I have a studio on the Bowery and am turning out much good work.
Charles Pollock (New York) to Adrian Jaffe (Haslett, Michigan), 14 March 1970
Exhibits in “Color and Field – 1890–1970” at the Albright–Knox Gallery, Buffalo (with Olitski, Louis, Noland, Motherwell, Rothko, and others); the exhibition travels to the Dayton Art Institute and the Cleveland Museum of Art (1971).
Saw the Picasso print show at the Modern. It is incredible. Also smaller exhibitions of his prints at two other galleries. Saw the Gustons at Marlborough. It’s a rather interesting show in some curious way. I don’t know whether I really like it. It’s a complete break – at any rate with his immediate past, and must have taken a lot of courage or a profound psychic change.
Jack’s 1939 drawings done for a Jungian psychoanalyst and now being shown at the Whitney for the first time are interesting. I don’t know what they reveal about his state of mind except the conflict in an artist trying desperately to find a language of his own. Lee has objected to the show. Its hard to know why. I suspect she wishes these 80 or so drawings were in her portfolio. Kramer says the monograph on the exhibition by C. L. Wysuph is “the most vulgar and confused discussion of a modern artist I have ever read”.
The Eakins show was only moderately interesting. In some ways the photographs were the best. Georgia O’Keefe was a total disappointment. Here and there over the years I have seen things of hers that I thought very good. This is the first comprehensive showing I have seen. She was a very unambitious artist to judge by this present showing and only some early small watercolors display much quality.
Charles Pollock (New York) to Sylvia Pollock (Paris), 21 October 1970
Sylvia was invited to Paris to consider the possibility of a position with a French publisher. . . she was made an offer so attractive we have decided it cannot be refused. So in January we will go to Paris for a year anyway – perhaps longer.
Well, we are excited, and think that the move promises to be a wonderful adventure. Can you imagine?
Charles Pollock (New York) to Jay and Alma Pollock (Monterey Park), 30 November 1970
January: Charles, Sylvia and Francesca move to Paris, theoretically for one year, where Sylvia has a job as designer with the French publisher and rare-book dealer, Pierre Berès.
August: Holidays in the south of France, La Cadière d’Azur.
Charles comments on leaving New York:
The artistic life in New York was not what it was in the 40s, 50s, or even the 60s . . . and visually New York is becoming a very uninteresting place for me . . . in the early days, Fifth Avenue, Madison Avenue . . . Greenwich Village was a wonderful spot, a community . . . it’s not a community anymore; Paris has communities all over the place. . . .
Artscribe 8, 1977
All is well after some uncertain days. I broke a bone in my right hand a week before leaving: and had, on arrival, a severe case of bronchitis (a consequence, as I see it, of giving up smoking!) . . .
[Sylvia] is working on a large book on Sonia Delaunay. Delaunay is incredible. She was painting better pictures than her husband in 1914, and at 85 is still going strong. Gimpel in N. Y. had a show of hers last year which I liked very much and I have seen here a drawing and print show which is impressive.
Otherwise there is little worth mentioning, and that includes the Museum of Modern Art where we were this afternoon to see an exhibition of Morandi (we love Morandi etchings and drawings). The Museum is a travesty: badly designed, pretentious, badly built; and indifferently administered. You wouldn’t believe how inept the whole ambience is. I have never seen so much unimportant painting. Even major figures are poorly represented.
Meanwhile, we enjoy the city, its architecture, etc. . . . So-called modern building is as bad as in N. Y. This afternoon we walked , by accident, past Unesco. I couldn’t believe it.
Charles Pollock (Paris) to Reuben Kadish (New York), 11 March 1971
There is a huge spectacular on now, the Biennale de Paris for participants under 35, described by one critic as: “a bizarre conglomerate of esoteric fun-house jam session, theater in the street, hall of mirrors, labyrinth and biggest-bulletin-board-in-the-world”.
Doesn’t that sound familiar?
Charles Pollock (Paris) to Reuben Kadish (New York), 12 October 1971
It doesn’t seem possible we have been here, in Paris, nearly 10 months . . .
We wonder how we can return to the filth and violence of New York City; maybe we can’t – for a while anyway. God knows what any part of the world will be like a few years hence. I am not working well, but suspect I would have similar problems in N.Y. . . .
Charles Pollock (Paris) to Jay and Alma Pollock (Monterey Park), 8 November 1971
We will stay in Paris at least another year. . . .
Charles Pollock (Paris) to Jay and Alma Pollock (Monterey Park), 21 February 1972
April–May: Charles goes to New York to give up their New York apartment, visit galleries and see old friends. He goes to Los Angeles to see his daughter, Jeremy, and his brother, Jay.
I am not sure I can say what I feel about New York. This is perhaps the best of all seasons to see it. There has been a bit of rain, but mostly the days are warm, bright and clear; there are jonquils all along 62nd and blossoms and forsythia in the park; trees not quite in full leaf. At its best the city is still an exciting experience: young children are still on the streets on their way to or from school – on 86th, on 81st and on Madison. I seem to see more particular things in the shops – for men and women – than the Paris boutiques; the galleries seem much more serious and professional – even if the SoHo scene is overblown and pretentious.
Most N. Y. streets were probably never meant for people and the pressure of traffic now make them howling tunnels. 25 trucks of National Police on the Pl Saint Sulpice somehow doesn’t seem as menacing as a few squad cars here. The very look of American police breeds distrust. Evidence of erosion, physical and social, is everywhere; though the well-to-do seem oblivious. I don’t know what I think.
Charles Pollock (New York) to Sylvia Pollock (Paris), 29 April 1972
I’m sure I don’t need to say how pleasant it was staying with you . . . It was a lovely week.
There were lots of things we didn’t talk about – probably because we agree so perfectly. What can one say about our society, our country, except that it is corrupt: more dangerous than any society that ever existed because of the resources at its command. And we poor citizens are helpless.
Today I read that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court met 2 reporters from the Washington Post at his home with a rifle in his hand! – and George Wallace has been shot! How do we sow violence in the streets with stupid rhetoric.
Charles Pollock (Paris) to Jay and Alma Pollock (Monterey Park), 16 May 1972
August in the south of France.
September: Trip to the Brittany coast, Pont-Aven.
There was a certain amount of rivalry in my family . . . [but it] was harmonized rather early on, partly I must say through the judicious intervention of our parents.
Charles Pollock (Paris) to Elizabeth Pollock (Westbrookville, New York), 6 September 1972
We had a pleasant 5 weeks in the VAR in August, visiting lovely Romanesque churches on the way south and on the return. The Matisse chapel again, and the Grimaldi-Picasso, and the Maeght Foundation where there was a not very convincing retrospective of de Stael.
. . . A big Newman show has just opened which I have yet to see; the Rothko was excellent; and the English Romantic Painting; and the de la Tour. Riopelle has a retrospective of interesting work.
Charles Pollock (Paris) to his former student at the University of Pennsylvania Robert Postma and his wife Pamela (Greencastle, Ind.) 1 November 1972
We will take short excursions [this summer] – perhaps to Brittany in September. One way and another the Côte d’azur is being despoiled as remorselessly as the California coast, and by the same agents – developers, speculators, tourism and “progress”. Paris too, like London, is being invaded by that same virus. Ugly super-towers and complexes are everywhere, indistinguishable from those in Detroit, Chicago, Boston or New York. Europe apparently won’t learn the American lesson that these things destroy cities – and people.
France is paranoid in many curious ways – the recent adventure in the Pacific not the least evidence of the state. Still, for us, Paris is a wonderfully pleasant place to live. Though one wonders how long this will be true – 20 years maybe . . . I seem to work as well here as in N.Y. and have as little to to with the art world . . .
America seems such a lost place just now; we can’t quite face the hopelessness of it all. I don’t know where one can put one’s faith, convinced as I am that if Nixon does a little weeping before the television cameras the bulk of the people will rally to his support no matter what he is accused of, nor how damning the evidence.
Charles Pollock (Paris) to Elizabeth Pollock (Westbrookville), 1 August 1973
Yes, I have also heard from O’Connor, and of course I will cooperate. I think it is necessary to make the record of Jack’s life and work as clear and unequivocal as possible . . .
[Your memories] of Jack, whether taped or written . . . will have value simply as history – a history I feel we should all be anxious to supplement in whatever way possible.
To answer your question – should you tape or write your memories of Jack? It is of course for you to decide. I haven’t the slightest objection. I myself have declined to do so because I did not really know him – either as a youth, or as a young student. However, I think it is fair to say that you always knew more about people than I did; and your memory is probably a good deal sharper than mine ever was . . .
Charles Pollock (Paris) to Elizabeth Pollock (Westbrookville), 16 December 1973
February: Trip to London.
April: Week in Corsica.
August: Month in Digne (Basses-Alpes).
All is well here, though nothing interesting in the art world. I’m sick of Kodachrome realism and medical illustrators parading as painters.
Charles Pollock (Paris) to his former student at the University of Pennsylvania Natvar Bhavsar (New York), 6 February 1974
The package of drawings [Charles’s drawings from the 1930s] has arrived . . . It is curious to see those early drawings again. Some of them are good – of their kind, but I am so far away from that simplistic world. Thank heaven there is no element of slickness in them – which seems to be the chief characteristic of young artists today.
Charles Pollock (Paris) to Elizabeth Pollock (Westbrookville), 22 July 1974
I hadn’t supposed there was anywhere in the world another Watts Tower. But on our way south in August we stopped to see this astonishing monument to the will of a simple postman [Facteur Cheval] as remarkable as Simon Rodia [Watts Towers]. Stylistically they are clearly unrelated, but there is a common wild fantasy.
We spent some weeks in the Basse-Alps North of Nice. Interesting landscape not unlike parts of Arizona and Mexico. Saw the Matisse Museum in Nice for the first time, and a splendid exhibition of Matisse sculpture.
. . . Saw the Impressionist show yesterday – quite wonderful: you will see it at the Metropolitan, and it may look better – the French don’t manage difficult physical space very well.
Charles Pollock (Paris) to Reuben Kadish (New York), 1 October 1974
. . . I will be in New York in June . . . am going there to close my studio which until now I have retained; but at last it doesn’t make much sense, so I will put everything in storage . . .
We are well: and as content as the frightful state of the world allows.
Charles Pollock (Paris) to Alma and Jay Pollock (Monterrey Park), 20 May 1975
June: Charles goes to New York for a month to empty his Bowery studio, to put paintings in storage, and to sell books.
July: Monte Estoril, Portugal, with Sylvia and Francesca, visiting Sylvia’s aunt, Rosa (Winter) Lloyd.
September: Charles’s brother, Frank, visits Paris. It is his first trip outside of the United States. Sylvia takes Frank, with Francesca and two of her girlfriends, to the Normandy coast for a week.
1975 was a good year for me in terms of work; 1976 may be better still. Unfortunately I haven’t yet discovered how to get the work seen in what I consider its proper ambiance; one needs to learn how to manage these things early: I didn’t. I don’t find many of the galleries interesting; and like even less what most of them show.
There are, of course, the big survey exhibitions, ranging from excellent to indifferent. The Matisse Drawing and Sculpture exhibition was the most perfect presentation I’ve seen in France, where the exhibition skills of the kind we are familiar with are not much in evidence.
Charles Pollock (Paris) to Robert Postma (Guelph, Ontario, Canada), 10 March 1976
I am in my studio every day and am fairly content with what I’m doing, but can’t discover where I would like to show it – or what gallery could do anything serious with it.
There has been an International art fair at the Grand Palais with many New York galleries, and others, showing. I thought Mirvish did better than most, but it is hard to see painting in such disjointed segments. We have had a fine exhibition of Rodin watercolors, drawings and memorabilia at the Rodin Museum. Ken Noland is showing his recent work at Templon.
The new museum Paris is building on rue Beaubourg is an absolute horror . . . It is a sad commentary on the decline of contemporary taste: all in the name of “progress”, no doubt.
We are well, even flourishing.
Charles Pollock (Paris) to Robert Postma (Guelph, Ontario, Canada), 8 November 1976
Meets Hans Namuth for the first time at the opening of Aaron Siskind’s exhibition at Zabriskie Gallery, Paris.
August in Portugal with family.
I have read the typescript [for the Artscribe interview] and am, much to my own surprise, rather pleased with it. I didn’t know an interview could be so painless . . .
Charles Pollock (Paris) to Terence Maloon (London), 2 July 1977
I’ve recently been taken up by some young English critics, and their magazine Artscribe will be publishing an interview with and an article on me in early September. We were in London last week being wined and dined; it’s all very amusing. . . .
Charles Pollock (Paris) to Elizabeth Pollock (Westbrookville), 24 July 1977
Elizabeth Pollock responded at length to the Archives of American Art (Smithsonian) curator Garnett McCoy’s queries about the thirties:
My own association with artists [in the 30s] . . . in no way [justifies] your conclusion that the majority of them “turned to the left and acted on strong political beliefs”. . . I knew of no painter who held Marxist principles or acted upon Marxist convictions. They were hungry, and I mean hungry, and they had to exist, but first and last their concern was with their work.
The Pollocks? A tolerant man, Charles viewed my ardent work among the seething labor unions of the decade with amusement and sympathy. If memory serves me accurately, I was unable to get him even to accompany me to the grimy hall of the CP to listen to the lectures, until he was lured by a very special work-in-progress slowly making a wonder of the walls: Diego Rivera’s mural.
What of the working-class symbols that Charles spilled over his own murals and onto practically every canvas of that decade? Before we knew we were the victims of a depression, before the government fathered its art shelters, Charles Pollock had been filling pocket-sized sketchbooks with what had ensnared vision since childhood as the son of a poor Western farmer: bone-worn workers, exhausted miners, burdened women, dying landscapes, industrial ruins, etc. From our first “dates”, I was fascinated by the flashing sketches Charles made everywhere and at any time – even in the dimlit movies to catch a spectator’s profile. I recall – and this was before painters were to be classified as leftwing – that Charles would bring hoboes (not bums, understand, but the old, proud WOWs) off the city streets to pose in the studio . . .
Charles eventually did join the Washington staff of the WPA, persuaded by an old friend who needed his steadiness and his craft. And later when he became cartoonist for the UAW newspaper in Detroit, it was not in satisfaction of a political compulsion (although we both actively supported the powerful CPO influence among the UAW factions), but because he would be able to pace himself in the tracks of [Thomas] Nast, whom he had admired since adolescence. The originals of Charles’s cartoons, which I’ve given the archives, bear witness to that devotion. . . .
The Pollocks, like their kind and unlike the writers I knew, I then considered (and still do) to have been a-political, what today we think of as concerned liberals keenly aware of social evils, empathetic with the deprived – but genuinely involved only with the mastering of their craft. They were not inclined to any type of cult, social, religious, or political . . .
Elizabeth Pollock (Westbrookville) to Garnett McCoy (Washington, DC), 8 December 1977
The Artscribe issue was a bit of a fluke, and I’ll be surprised if much comes of it, though I am glad to have this warm account of my work from an enthusiastic young English critic. The fact is it is late in life to expect more, and my own self-management over the years has seldom helped – when it hasn’t been an absolute obstacle to even a modest recognition.
Charles Pollock (Paris) to Alma and Jay Pollock (Monterey Park), 19 December 1977
Christmas holidays in Collioure (southern France).
This year . . . we went for a week to a little sea-side town near the Spanish border, Colliure. It is very Catalan, and was a favorite stopping place for many painters in the early decades of the century. There are some quite remarkable churches and Abbeys in the area – all on the route to Santiago de Compostella . . .
Charles Pollock (Paris) to Elizabeth Pollock (Westbrookville), 10 January 1978
. . . It was a thoroughly enjoyable and memorable trip . . . One expects to see Claude Monets in Paris, and they were of course very moving, but it was an especially exciting and privileged experience to see your work Charles.
Jonathan Harvey, director of the Acme Gallery (London) to Charles Pollock (Paris), 6 April 1978
April: Visits New York with Sylvia and Francesca.
A young friend of ours, a writer and critic, who has been in the States visiting museums and galleries saw “Look Down that Road”, and “Man at the Well” at the Smithsonian. He reports they are well shown.
I am having photographs made of the paintings in N. Y. storage. When I see them I will make a decision about offering some more recent to the Smithsonian.
Charles Pollock (Paris) to Elizabeth Pollock (Westbrookville), 24 May 1978
August: Charles, Sylvia and Francesca spend two weeks visiting Piero Dorazio and his family in Italy.
We have just returned from a 2 week holiday in Italy where we visited an old friend – a painter we first met in Rome in 1962. He has transformed an abandoned Monastery in the Umbrian hills near Orvieto into a most remarkable, romantic home. The former chapel is his studio! While there we visited once more Siena, Arezzo, and Sansepolcro. Francesca was charmed to see so many Piero della Francescas for whom she was named.
Since June we have been visited by a number of young English critics / and or painters. They all seem impressed with my work. I am assured there will be an exhibition in London next year – perhaps April.
Charles Pollock (Paris) to Elizabeth Pollock (Westbrookville), 31 August 1978
Our Italian visit was quite special in many ways: the warmth of our stay with Piero and Giuliana Dorazio and the pleasure we had in showing Francesca the Italy we had known. We arrived in Rome by overnight train and drove a rented car from there to Todi. He has his own vineyard and makes very good wine. We had a little private house near the main building . . . There were always visitors . . . and usually 8 or 10 people for lunch and dinner – always a feast.
Charles Pollock (Paris) to Jay and Alma Pollock (Monterey Park), 28 September 1978
Meets, through the British painter John Hoyland, other painters and art critics, including John Edwards, Albert Irvin, James Faure Walker, Peter Rippon, Derek Southall.
The year looks very promising for us. I will have a big exhibition (30–40 paintings) in London at the Acme Gallery opening April 12th. The director of the gallery was here last week selecting the paintings. There will be a catalogue with color (which Sylvia designed). I’ll send it when it is printed. The exhibition will be shown in several cities outside London.
Charles Pollock (Paris) to Jay and Alma Pollock (Monterey Park), 12 February 1979
One-man show, Acme Gallery, London. The exhibition tours Great Britain.
The show has gone very well here. The response from artists has been wonderful, which is the most important thing.
Soon I will be off with the work to Brighton, which is the first leg of the tour. I will miss the work very much – it has been marvellous to see them at Acme, to arrive at work each day, and see such beautiful, inspiring paintings.
Jonathan Harvey (London) to Charles Pollock (Paris), 15 May 1979
Your telegram was very welcome. We thank you . . . I went to London on the Monday before the opening and saw the gallery and the exhibition for the first time Tuesday morning. It was a surprise: large open spaces on 2 floors with more than 30 paintings. I have never seen my work thus presented . . .
On Thursday there was a Press luncheon, a private opening in the evening, and an artists dinner afterward for some 16 people. And there was a party for us on Saturday. As you might imagine it was all very pleasant . . .
Charles Pollock (Paris) to Jay and Alma Pollock (Monterey Park), 19 May 1979
Felt that I must write to say how much I enjoyed the exhibition at the Acme Gallery – the work is so radiant, joyous + beautiful – these qualities that one had almost forgotten art could express – a very, very distinguished show, remarkably consistent in quality and sustained intention, possessing a luminous clarity and profound optimism.
British painter John Carter (London) to Charles Pollock (Paris), 12 July 1979
We send you these items about Jack’s show at the Musée d’Art Moderne. It is a very impressive exhibition and from all accounts is shaking things up a bit in Paris. Lee [Krasner] was here for the opening and had dinner with us; also Hans Namuth, whom we met for the first time last year, came for lunch bringing the young writer of the Tribune article [Michael Brenson] . . .
Charles Pollock (Paris) to Jay and Alma Pollock (Monterey Park), 31 October 1979
December: Small exhibition at the American Cultural Center, Brussels.
The London exhibition went off well enough. There were more than 30 paintings on 2 floors, carefully hung and well lighted. There were a few small sales and a few reviews. By a coincidence the MOMA traveling exhibition of Jack’s drawings, Drawing into Painting, opened at Oxford at the same time. Several reviewers covered both shows in the same review. As you know that exhibition has been showing here [in Paris]. It was an impressive show and well received.
I am showing a small group of paintings at the American Cultural Center in Brussels. They invited me, and I suppose it can’t do any harm.
The gallery world here is mostly uninteresting, but I did see a fine group of paintings and sculpture by Wifredo Lam recently. The Picasso exhibition is quite special.
Charles Pollock (Paris) to Herman Cherry (New York), 14 December 1979
Here all is well. Nothing much in the galleries, but the “Drawing into Painting” show was well presented for a change; the Picasso exhibition interesting, but poor lighting and careless hanging spoiled it somewhat. I haven’t yet seen the Monet exhibition, but expect to be affronted by indifferent hanging. We did see the big show at the Metropolitan.
I continue to work. What else can one do?
Charles Pollock (Paris) to Robert Postma (Greensboro, NC), 19 June 1980
February–March: One-man show, Paris Art Center, Paris. This inaugural exhibition, arranged by the director of the Paris Art Center, Ante Glibota, and first scheduled for October 1980, was a difficult experience for all concerned.
You will be receiving soon a catalogue of a big exhibition of my work (1974–1981). It is being presented as the opening exhibition of a place called Paris Art Center, rumored to be financed by American and Swiss foundations. I know nothing about it, and doubt I’ll have much interest in its program, whatever it may be: but the space is spectacular; I have 47 paintings on 2 floors and a balcony. The Vernissage was on the 24th, with champagne and the works; many many people and a lively occasion.
That I am showing here at all is a mere fluke: a young gallery owner has taken an interest in my painting just at the moment he has also been appointed artistic director of the Center and he chose to open it with this exhibition.
We are all a bit exhausted from weeks of tension.
I had a cataract removed from my right eye last June . . . I have been slowed a bit in my work but hope to become productive again soon.
Charles Pollock (Paris) to Jay and Alma Pollock (Monterey Park), 5 March 1981
March: Publication of These Intensities: poems by Sylvia Winter and drawings by Charles Pollock.
Francis O’Connor wrote an introduction to the catalogue of an exhibition of Jack’s work at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, labeled “The Black Pourings, 1951–1953”, in which he elaborated a preposterous theory based on Jack’s having been born “as black as a stove” and choked by the cord. Eugene Thaw, the New York dealer and one of the collaborators on the Catalogue Raisonné, wrote a very perceptive article for the New York Review of Books (October 23, 1980) attacking this fat-ass, pedantic approach to an understanding of Jack’s work. I wrote to Lee saying how much I liked Thaw’s article, expressing surprise, however, that anyone could suppose that O’Connor’s fancy notion had much to do with accounting for the work in question. Lee showed the letter to Thaw, who in turn wrote me to say that O’Connor’s information came from Alma’s letter, and thanking me for seeing the point of his essay. There have been some uninteresting letters in the NYRB. Fini.
Nothing much came of my exhibition: no comment in the press, and no sales. It’s about what I expected: the French don’t do these things very well anymore. I think there won’t be a Milan show.
Sylvia and I have just published a book of her poems and my drawings. . . .
Charles Pollock (Paris) to Jay and Alma Pollock (Monterey Park), 18 April 1981
July in Majorca with Sylvia, Francesca and her friend, Marine.
Your appreciation of our little book [These Intensities] touches us deeply. The drawings and the poetry are quite independent entities, as you observe. The drawings were made in Mexico in 1956 while on a sabbatical – but the driving force behind them was my longing for Sylvia. The poems have all been written in France – that is in the last 10 years. It isn’t anything we planned beforehand: the separate works simply seemed to belong together – that symbiotic relationship! I don’t think it could be done again, though we are both working in our separate and harmonious ways . . .
Our daughter is beautiful – and a joy.
Charles Pollock (Paris) to Reuben Kadish (Vernon, N.J.), 20 August 1981
March: Visit from Daniel Matson, director of the DeWitt Art Gallery in Michigan, who later sends Charles copies of his 1937–8 United Automobile Workers (UAW) cartoons and buys copies of These Intensities. Charles gives him a 1982 gouache for the Kresge Art Center Collection.
The copies of the UAW cartoons have arrived – awfully ancient history, I’m afraid, and intrinsically not very interesting . . .
Charles Pollock (Paris) to Daniel Matson (DeWitt, Michigan), 11 May 1982
June–July: Charles goes with Francesca to Mexico, where they visit Mathias Goeritz; then to Los Angeles where Sylvia joins them for visits with family and friends. They all go east, to East Hampton, Long Island, to see Herman Cherry, Reuben Kadish and Alfonso Ossorio. They then spend two weeks visiting friends and family (Jason McCoy, Diana Burroughs, and their newborn son, Sanford Roy McCoy) on Martha’s Vineyard, where they have exchanged their Paris apartment for Alvin Eisenman’s Chilmark house.
Matson had interviewed Charles on behalf of a Lansing newspaper journalist, David Thomas, for an article in the Lansing State Journal.
It would be most appreciated if you would advise what you intend to communicate in your work, particularly your recent works. I would also like to mention your comments about your background which you believe relevant to your work, and would like said. . . .David [Thomas] is involved in programming a video presentation about you and your work . . . [he is] also interested in writing your biography.
Daniel Matson (DeWitt) to Charles Pollock (Paris), 28 July 1982
Charles found the article offensive, and refused a proposed TV presentation of his work.
I am unable to cooperate with Mr Thomas in his proposed program. I am allergic to T.V. and media concepts in general. Moreover, I disliked his article. I do not understand where he got such a silly statement as “I like it because it looks nice”. In reference to works of art (including my own), “nice” is not in my vocabulary. That is a word used to describe the weather. . . . If he had seen Michael Brenson’s profile in the N.Y. Times of 1 May he would have read my explicit statement, “For the moment, I feel I’m where I have to be”.
Insofar as my work is concerned, since I have chosen to be a painter and not a writer, I choose not to make verbal statements. The work should speak for itself. My background is, of course, relevant to my work; here again, Mr Brenson’s article would be useful reading for Mr Thomas. Please excuse the curtness of these remarks, but I must say I found the article careless and very nearly hopeless in its tone and language.
Charles Pollock (Paris) to Daniel Matson (DeWitt), 4 August 1982
October: Takes Francesca and her friend, Marine, to London. They visit the Courtauld Institute Galleries, the British Museum, and the Tate Gallery. John Hoyland takes Charles and the young girls to Ronnie Scott’s, the best jazz club in town.
. . . I am not much for remembering birthdays; but the up-coming one seems to me to call for a special effort. We will uncork a bottle of Champagne on the 7th [7 November, Elizabeth’s eightieth birthday] and celebrate both yours and mine. We hope you are well. I confess I don’t feel 80, but I suppose I must look it to some – my immediate family excepted. Salute!
Charles Pollock (Paris) to Elizabeth Pollock (Westbrookville), 31 October 1982
Yesterday when I dropped the ‘phone in its cradle, I – who never cry – was choked with tears, your voices lingering for a long while in my thoughts.
That Charles, unprodded, actually recalled my birth date, of itself, is phenomenal!!! Seriously, though, your call has persuaded me – with time so threatening – that I must no longer be restrained from expressing what I often have wanted to tell you. . . . Excitement garbled something I very much wanted to say to Charles yesterday. It is, indeed, mean and regrettable that your genius has yet to be widely acknowledged. But as a man and an artisan you have realized a rare kind of accomplishment: personally and esthetically, your integrity has been untouched by the corruptive seductions of our time. Stubbornly, with awareness, you have been true to yourself. I’m certain you’ve never suspected how – despite our long-ago misunderstandings – indelibly our own time together affected me – my philosophy.
Unerringly, what I esteemed in your character became the measure by which I have evaluated the values of everyone I’ve known. . . .My dears, I treasure the bond I share with the three of you.
Elizabeth Pollock (Westbrookville) to Charles and Sylvia Pollock (Paris), 8 November 1982
January: Celebrates his eightieth birthday with a trip to Zurich with Sylvia and Francesca to see a Matisse exhibition.
We were in Zurich for a weekend 10 days ago to see the big Matisse exhibition and an exhibition of 19th century art at the Oskar Reinhart Museum. Both exhibitions superb – exciting . . .
Charles Pollock (Paris) to Reuben Kadish (New York), 19 January 1983
I appreciate your interest and effort on my behalf vis-à-vis a gallery.
However, I must honestly admit that I am distinctly of two minds about the project – even uneasy.
I have spent more than 50 years as a serious painter without being known in the N. Y. gallery world, and, at 80, I am not sure I care very much about being known in that world now. In any case, I have no track-record – stigma enough in the eyes of gallery owners. Moreover, I don’t know in what possible gallery I would be comfortable. There can’t be many . . .
I am difficult. It can’t be helped.
Charles Pollock (Paris) to Hans Namuth (New York), 19 January 1983
March: Charles has back pains, no diagnosis is made for weeks. Finally a hairline fracture of a dorsal vertebra is treated with anti-inflammatory agents. Within two weeks he is taken to the emergency room of the American Hospital with a bursting duodenal ulcer. Intensive care, slow recovery.
The idea of a making a documentary film, loosely based on your interview in Artscribe . . . is taking shape. I am saying this before we even ask you whether we’ll have your blessing. The working title is “Pollock and Pollock”.
Hans Namuth (New York) to Charles Pollock (Paris), 29 April 1983
About the film project, I have to say I have very cold feet, and would prefer that it be dropped. I am sure it is a perfectly valid idea, but I have a limited amount of energy – and, at my age, also a limited amount of time, which must be devoted to my work and my family.
Charles Pollock (Paris) to Hans Namuth (New York), 8 May 1983
I am sure you are aware of the speculation about the influence of Indian art on Jack and his work. It isn’t new: William Rubin was interested in the problem in the 60s. [Jeffrey] Potter may have discussed this matter with you. I have had a letter recently from a Mr. Polcari who has written an interesting article on Jackson Pollock and Thomas Hart Benton. He mentions Indian influence, and wonders whether Jack might have known “California’s Indian tribes and art”.
Indians were nowhere to be seen when I lived in California. But now come this newspaper story (enclosed) which reports on an Indian Reservation near Riverside!
Was there a museum on North Broadway on the road to Riverside? Did it exhibit Indian arts? Would Jack have spent any time there? In any case, my opinion is that whatever influence Indian art had on Jack came from his studying publications of the Bureau of Ethnology issued in the 1890s (Washington, Government Printing Office). Jack and I bought several of these publications in the early 1930s. Any comment?
Charles Pollock (Paris) to Jay and Alma Pollock (Monterey Park), 15 May 1983
Many thanks for having the Allen book sent on to me [Lewis M. Allen, Printing with the Hand-press]. It was especially pleasant to have it come from Dawson’s where I bought my first real books in the early 20s when they were in downtown L. A. . . . It is unclear to me what I intended to do with the book. It is unlikely that I will ever again use a handpress. I was dreaming, evidently. Alas! . . .I am still not quite in working order.
Charles Pollock (Paris) to Jay and Alma Pollock (Monterey Park), 6 June 1983
Was Jack familiar with the Southwest Museum and its collection of Indian arts? There is speculation that he was much influenced by Indian sand painting. I have never believed that he had any direct contact with such work, maintaining that the influence, if it exists, came from his study of publications of the American Bureau of Ethnology in Washington, and in particular their spectacular chromo-lithographic reproductions. Jack and I bought several of these 1890 volumes from a bookstore on 4th ave. in the early 1930s.
Charles Pollock (Paris) to Reuben Kadish (Vernon), 13 July 1983
When Phil [Guston] and I came back from Mexico (Sande had gone to N. Y. and I think he and Jack were living on Houston St) we rented a place on Museum Drive above the Southwest Museum . . . – and whether Jack came out that summer while we were living there or whether it was another time I can’t place – but on his trip to L. A. at one point or another – several museum visits took place – as well as a gallery lecture given by Fitelson in which after the lecture Jack got up and asked “What about yourself?” when this lecture was themed to the revival of the past with an eclectic selection taking a piece out of here another from there to make a neo-classic performance – also we did go to the L. A. County Museum and lay on the floor to look at the ethnographic section in the basement – out near where your parents had a house near the museum – and Jay had those great Navajo rugs – In N.Y. we did go to the Am Museum of Natural History and always went to that dark unlit room with Northwest carvings – as well as to the Am Indian Museum on Broadway . . . I don’t think any one thread made up his being. He sure was an avid gallery goer and museum goer – looked at books and I am sure that portfolio you mention was important as confirmation of his expression.
Reuben Kadish (New York) to Charles Pollock (Paris), 12 September 1983
October: Charles received a request for information from Stephen Naifeh and Gregory White Smith for a book they were working on.
My Father was a thoughtful and gentle man; my Mother was a thoughtful and gentle woman; she was also a very proud woman – proud of her husband; proud of her children; and proud of her skills as a homemaker. They were both born in the farming community of Tingley, Iowa. My Fathers parents were named McCoy; he was adopted while very young by a couple named Pollock[.] I do not believe there are records of my Fathers Irish ancestry. However, one of my Mothers’ ancestors was a Hessian who fought in the Revolutionary War and afterward migrated to the Ohio Valley. His name was Speck. My Mother was born a McClure; her Mother was born a Speck.
My Mother left Tingley as a young woman and went to Colorado Springs, following in the footsteps of two older sisters. How she was employed there I do not know, but I would guess as a housekeeper or seamstress. My parents were married there, but soon moved to Denver where I was born, December 25 1902. The following year they moved to Cody [Wyoming] where my four brothers were born.
Cody was a new town and booming. The Burlington Railroad Company had extended its line there from Toluca, Montana; a bridge had been built across the Shoshone River; Cody became the shipping station for all the wood produced in the area; a dam was to be constructed in the Shoshone Canyon, and vast irrigation projects were planned. William F. Cody (Buffalo Bill) as a big landowner was back of much of this activity. For my parents this must have seemed the place to be.
My Father’s first job there was at Colonel Cody’s Irma Hotel – probably as a handyman. Later he became a plasterer. Before becoming foreman of the Sanford (Sant) Watkins sheep ranch, he and a friend Gideon Hays operated a rock-crushing plant on the Shoshone River.
I remember seeing my Father plaster; I remember the rock-crusher and the donkey engine. I was fascinated by the freighters and their teams, camped near our house; I remember the fancy ladies in their buggies; I thought I wanted to be a long-line skinner.
My earliest profound visual experience was to discover in an abandoned log schoolhouse what seemed like thousands of foolscap sheets of Palmer writing-exercises covering the floor. (I still see them) In detail these exercises are utterly mechanical, but in disarray, in such abundance, in such a place – [it] was magic. I trace my life long interest in the calligraphic to this experience which occured when we moved to the Watkins ranch downriver from Cody.
I don’t remember drawing as a child, but I remember being excited by the comic strips of the time – Buster Brown, Happy Hooligan, and Little Nemo. On our way from Cody to Phoenix we stopped for some weeks or months in San Diego while my Father looked for a property to buy in Phoenix. While there I won a prize for a drawing I had done. I made drawings during our stay in Arizona though I have no clear memory of them.
In High School in Chico, California I had a very sympathetic art teacher who put me to copying English watercolorists. I also discovered in the local Carn[e]gie Library an art magizine (International Studio) which had wonderful color reproductions.
When I left school in 1922 and went to study at the Otis Art Institute [Los Angeles] I discovered the DIAL. Until this time I had never been in a museum or a gallery. The DIAL was a revelation; I sent copies to Jack and Sande who were still with the family in Northern California.
I left Los Angeles in 1926 and went to New York with an introduction to Thomas Hart Benton.
On our return to New York [from a trip to California] in 1930 Frank and I urged Jack to come with us. It was understood he would study with Benton. He did. He was excited by New York; the city, the museums, the galleries. He loved his work with Benton and his relationship with the Benton family. He had difficult times: perhaps more difficult than I realized. But he worked furiously[.] I believed in him from the beginning; so did Tom and Rita.
Jack and I made one trip across the country together (in 1934) to see the country and visit with our family. We made trips into the Mojave desert; The highlight of the summer was seeing the Orozco mural at Pomona College.
Biographical notes made in response to questions sent by Naifeh and Smith, October 1983
It is astonishing how many individuals want to do that book on Jack. . . .Steve [Naifeh] was here some weeks ago. He is a very engaging fellow, and seems to be preparing himself very thoroughly. He certainly has information I have never heard of – that Dad’s father was named Alexander McCoy as was his father, who was a minister and came to this country from Ireland just before the American War!
We have also been visited by Mrs Eleanor Piacenza (the widow of Rita’s [Tom Benton’s wife’s] brother). She intends to write a book on Rita, and is also preparing to turn her home in Chilmark [Massachusetts] into a Benton museum.
Charles Pollock (Paris) to Jay and Alma Pollock (Monterey Park), 8 November 1983
September: Nantes. Charles, returning from a holiday on the Ile d’Yeu, is struck with a blocked artery in his leg. Emergency treatment there, later a “sympathectomy” in Paris.
That grade B actor in Washington isn’t helping; but will our compatriots impeach him, or turn him out of office? Not likely. Who will save us from imbecility?
And we are here on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
Charles Pollock (Paris) to Reuben Kadish (New York), 6 November 1984
November–December: One-man show, “Passim: Paintings of the 70s”, Jason McCoy Inc., New York.
The exhibition goes to the Dimock Gallery, George Washington University, Washington, DC.
The dreaded year is here! What do we make of it? I suspect Orwell has been misunderstood, but the indiscriminate proliferation of computerized technology is not reassuring; it will surely usher in the worst of all possible worlds.
Charles Pollock (Paris) to Elizabeth Pollock (Westbrookville), 23 January 1984
We knew you were in Italy – and if we had known when you were in Venice or Florence we might have joined you for a day or two to share your pleasure. It is 20 years since our first visit to Italy but we have not forgotten the pleasure those wonderful days gave us.
Charles Pollock (Paris) to Reuben Kadish (New York), 21 September 1984
Have had several recent visits with Richard Fast and his wife . . . He has owned for 30 years the property on Sacramento Ave. that once belonged to Dad. Very pleasant meetings.
My New York show is now in Washington.
Charles Pollock (Paris) to Jay and Alma Pollock (Monterey Park), 16 December 1984
We are shocked by the turn of events in your life. We hadn’t known that Jay was ill or that he had circulation problems. When we visited there in 1982 he seemed in perfect shape. We hope you are finding a way to cope.
It is odd that Jay and I should be afflicted with the same malady. It came upon me suddenly in the summer of 1983. I haven’t worked since except for a few drawings. . . .
Charles Pollock (Paris) to Jay and Alma Pollock (Monterey Park), 6 August 1985
October: Brother, Frank, and his wife Maria visit Charles, Sylvia and Francesca in Paris.
We took them to see the Monet gardens at Giverny and to Chartres Cathedral, both spectacular achievements. I think they enjoyed their visit.
Charles Pollock (Paris) to Jay Pollock (Monterey Park), 28 October 1985
I am not in good health . . . Not very complicated, but frightfully enervating. In consequence I am unable to work, but I guess whatever I had to say, I have already said. Voila! . . .
We have a good life . . .
I don’t get around much, but we have seen the new Picasso Museum: it is very impressive. I am not sure I am missing anything. From what I see in the Journals, this is a hopelessly barren artistic period. All the forces that make modern life what it is are destructive of quality in the arts, certainly in painting and architecture.
Charles Pollock (Paris) to Terence Maloon (Sydney, Australia), 28 October 1985
The passage through the French countryside was an additional reward. I was impressed with how clean and tidy the farmers keep their lands. I could see blocks of it being intensely cultivated in vegetables. Still other areas left fallow in an obvious rotation program. And larger areas, too, of cropland for wheat and corn. The freeways were clean and pleasing to the eyes – quite unlike those at home with debris of all kinds scattered about.
I opened up your folder the other day and looked at Charles’s fine 1934 portrait of Jake Minsch and then I opened up Mother’s letter about Dad’s last hours. I wept and I wept, quietly alone. It’s never too late to cry again.
Frank Pollock (San Francisco, Calif.) to Charles Pollock (Paris), 11 November 1985
Christmas in Devon.
In spite of my disabilities, we spent Christmas in England with friends where I had a birthday cake especially baked by a bevy of lovely young women. However at 82 I begin to tire of birthdays. While there we saw the Matisse show (drawings + sculpture) at the Hayward – that concrete bunker on the Thames!
We would love to see the Caravaggios again. It is more than 20 years since we first saw them in Italy. The news from here is the scandal of the hole I. M. Pei is digging in the Louvre garden to build a banal and meretricious pyramid. Enough!
Is the Kandinsky survey now in N. Y.? We enjoyed the early period 1910–1920s especially. Pleased you saw my show; I would have liked a larger presentation. I do have the work.
Charles Pollock (Paris) to Reuben Kadish (New York), 22 February 1985
May: Exhibits in “Visual Arts Fellowships”, Detroit Focus Gallery.
Brother, Jay, dies.
The year 1986 is winding down ignominiously, much to my glee. The plight of Reagan and his henchmen has soothed my body in a way scads of prescription drugs fail to do. It’s the best show on earth. Each day’s disclosures whet the appetite for more. I’d welcome impeachment to top off the whole sordid story, but for the fear that George Bush may be even more dangerous . . .
[Alma] seems to be making a good adjustment to living alone.
Frank Pollock (San Francisco) to Charles Pollock (Paris), 17 December 1985
As always, you gave me a “lift” with your recent call. It was delightful to listen to your monologue’s detailing of C’s virtues, Sylvia. But again I remind you that I consider that superior individual remarkably fortunate in having so loving a spouse.
Elizabeth Pollock (Westbrookville) to Charles and Sylvia Pollock (Paris), 31 May 1986
Your call was most therapeutic . . . It did me good to hear a voice of someone who shared the long-ago years of youthful hope and inexhaustible energy. I find those memories exhilarating.
Elizabeth Pollock (Westbrookville) to Charles Pollock (Paris), 28 December 1986
November–December: One-man show, (“Stack” paintings), Jason McCoy Gallery, New York.
Charles, congratulations on your wonderful show here in New York. It got a great review in the Times . . . This country is finally becoming aware of your achievements.
Steven Naifeh (New York) to Charles Pollock (Paris), 18 December 1987
Charles dies in Paris 8 May after a brief illness.