S.S. Champlain Presents, June / July 2013


David Dixon is a complicated artist, whose Oedipal fixation on artist fathers can be obsessive. Give him the opportunity to discuss his art and he will eventually digress to stories about Cezanne’s apples or the meaning of Courbet’s empty grave in "The Burial at Ornan", or some other canonical moment he has internalized. But no art subject reaches deeper into his psyche than Jackson Pollock’s grave, eliciting connections to the Gnostic Gospels and the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. That’s because for David art is like religion.

Left: "Legend" / Right: Installation shot, S.S. Champlain

David grew up in North Carolina as part of an ordinary, middle class family that became increasingly influenced by the Evangelical, Southern Baptist movement. By the time he was an adult, his father had become an ordained minister of a rural Baptist church. How David evolved from a seemingly content Leave it To Beaver child (he maintains he had no beef with his parents), to a denizen of the New York art world’s Bohemian fringes, is a story that other American artists might tell. His curiosities and sensitivities drew him to Venice, New York, Paris, and finally to the nascent Williamsburg scene. Over time, a tension developed between his upbringing and his chosen path, which in his imagination and his work, plays out as a question about his own death and artistic legacy. He finds the answers in a self-made religion of demi-gods ­ among them artists, writers, philosophers ­ in whom he seeks his daily salvation.

Left: "Piss Pollock / Right: "Piss Dixon"

When David and I traveled to Springs, Long Island in the summer of 1998, we visited the Pollock-Krasner house and Green River Cemetery. Being wonky art tourists, we were amused to learn that Jackson Pollock liked to piss on a pile of rocks behind his studio. As we stood before Pollock and Krasner’s graves, I thought of the fraught husband-wife relationship, of how he had treated her, and I too, felt the urge to piss – on Pollock’s headstone. I never did act on this urge, but I talked about it to David, who returned to the cemetery in 2000 with a camera.

“Piss Pollock,” is a small black and white photograph of David with his legs spread, leaning into Pollock’s gravestone. His blond hair is topped with a baseball cap that sits low on his head, while his pee communes with the greatest pee-er of all time. The photograph marked the beginning of a body of work that David would create over more than a decade.

Left: Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner's graves at Green River Cemetery / Right: David Dixon reading at S.S. Champlain

David’s narrative about Pollock-Krasner goes something like this: after Pollock died in a car crash, Krasner had his legacy in her hands. Not only did she creatively manage the art in her possession, she took liberties in the job of burying Pollock himself. For her dead husband’s corpse, Krasner had a monument made out of a large, granite boulder she found on Long Island. And for her own eventual grave, she kept a smaller rock from the pile on which Pollock used to piss. Jackson had often mused about making a sculpture from this pile of rocks, so her gravestone would speak both of the unrealized sculpture and the abusiveness of their relationship. To be fair, Pollock pissed on a great many things. Often drunk, he would wet the bed; he’d relieve himself in people’s living rooms (most famously Peggy Guggenheim’s); it’s rumored that he even soaked some of his painted canvases.

Some years after making “Piss Pollock,” David recreated the large boulder as a sculpture. “Legend” is a close facsimile of Pollock’s sizeable headstone from Green River Cemetery. To me it is David’s most successful work, and I wanted the chance to live with it. But I also wanted David to think more about Lee Krasner.

In April, 2013, before installing “Legend” in my apartment, David drove back to Green River Cemetery to visit Krasner’s grave. He made scores of drawings in pencil and conte crayon, some with rubbed impressions of her inscription. He called me to describe the scene before him: “It has a dandelion growing on it,” he said. I suspected that David would never treat Krasner with the same god-like reverence that he felt for Pollock; I doubted many people ever would. But I was moved that my friend had returned to the place where he and I had shared such a formative experience, that our dialog continued.

Drawings from Green River Cemetery

The boulder in my living room is suspended from my ceiling upside down. When I look at it I am unsure if I am looking down on Pollock from above (with God), or if I am the one who is dead, buried six feet under the weight of his legacy. Through inversion David succeeded in creating another dimension – it is dizzying to consider the sculpture both spatially but also existentially. The sculpture recalls aspects of Marcel Duchamp’s "Large Glass" and "Étant Donnés", as it bends space by positioning the viewer simultaneously inside and outside of its boundaries.

"I Am Nature"

Beneath the boulder, David’s drawings of Lee Krasner’s gravestone line the top of my bookcases. They are heartfelt investigations of the smaller rock she chose for her headstone. Like Clement Greenberg and a handful of others, she defined and forged a great artistic period. She mentored Pollock when he first came on the scene; she held him close until his death. If David is right, neither artist lies dead neatly beneath his and her own separate boulders. It seems more fitting that both artists might have been buried in between the two markers, still somehow working together, to produce a divine force.

- Suzy Spence, June 2013

"Temple Mount" (detail), 2013

See more of David Dixon's work