CONRAD MARCA-RELLI: The Springs Years, 1953-1956
Pollock - Krasner Foundation May 5–July 30, 2011
The exhibition of eleven works created during Marca-Relli’s four-year residence in Springs includes Death of Jackson Pollock, which references his friend’s fatal automobile accident on August 11, 1956. Not long after that, Marca-Relli and his wife Anita left for Europe, and although they returned to East Hampton in later years, they did not come back to Springs.
In his autobiographical essay, “I remember when…,” published posthumously in 2008, Conrad Marca-Relli (1913-2000) recalled his introduction to the cottage at 852 Springs-Fireplace Road, just north of Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner’s property. “In 1953 my wife and I moved to East Hampton,” he wrote. “I felt that moving away from the city would give me the peace necessary to pursue my work without too many interruptions.” This had also been Pollock’s rationale for moving to Springs in 1945. For both artists, country living had a highly favorable, perhaps even decisive, influence on their work.
The house required a lot of renovation, much of which Marca-Relli and his wife did themselves. “Jackson and Lee were most warm and helpful,” he remembered. “They would constantly ask us over for dinner when they saw us in the middle of such exhausting work.” After they settled in, Marca-Relli said, “I was deeply involved in my painting. Especially in the winter, there was a poetic quietness.” At this time he was preoccupied with collage, which became his signature medium. Often taking the human figure as a point of departure, he would assemble and reassemble cut and torn fragments to create imagery that emphasizes organic unity rather than literal figuration. “Collage allows me to achieve purity of action,” he explained. The process of adding, removing, reshaping and shifting the collage elements, he believed, enabled him “to meditate and to act simultaneously, which is something the paintbrush technique does not allow you to do.”
Using a small outbuilding as his studio, Marca-Relli enjoyed a period of intense productivity, as well as a deepening friendship with Pollock and Krasner. During these years several other artists bought property in the area. By 1956, the Springs art community had grown to include Ibram Lassaw, Nicolas Carone, Sheridan Lord and Cile Downs, Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Wilfrid Zogbaum, and Julian Levy. In August of that year, Pollock was killed in an automobile accident about a mile from home, and Marca-Relli was called to the scene to identify the body. As he described it: “He was flat on his back, his eyes open. There was no blood, no scars, in fact he looked so peaceful.” The artist memorialized his experience in a 1956 collage, Death of Jackson Pollock, in which the intimation of a prone figure is constructed of fragments that simultaneously cohere and separate. Shards of spattered paper ambiguously suggest details of Pollock’s poured paintings.
The works are exhibited in association with Archivio Marca-Relli in Parma, Italy, and Knoedler & Company, New York. An illustrated catalogue with an essay by Carter Ratcliff is available.