CONTEMPLATIVE ART: Sr Wendy Beckett starts a regular monthly spiritual meditation on great works of modern art
Jackson Pollock: "Guardians of the Secret"
THE New York School, of which Jackson Pollock is probably the greatest exponent, could be seen as almost forced into greatness by existential angst! As the war and its inhuman concomitants reduced man more and more to threatened anirnality, so did those painters search with increasing power into the myths of the past.
Man was more than beast, and in a time of loss of faith he could seek to find expression of his spiritual potential in the beliefs of earlier aw.s. Pollock painted specific myths, like "Romulus and Remus", and generalised, essential myth, like "Guardians of the Secret".
A forerunner of his all-over "drip paintings", this wonderful canvas is aswirl with mysterious forms. There is a central block: chest beneath which lives a wakeful Cerberus, scored with hieroglyphics but calmly on guard. On either side of the chest-enclosure stand
sentinel figures, both there and not-there, spiritual presences that are only semimaterialised and of whom we can affirm little except their reality. And above the central "secret" we have a border of small wild figures and surrealist fish, enclosing it away from the curious.
What is the "secret"? For us, there is only one secret, that "mystery hidden from all ages and revealed in Christ Jesus". but even to say this is to be too concrete. There is a bright exuberance about Pollock's "secret" that warns us it is not to be captured in words, even scriptural. But it is somehow a deep and central joy, and it must be "guarded".
Perhaps we could be more specific about the guardian than about the secret itself. May not the watchdog be the animal part of us, the body, that hungers and thirsts and makes demands.
Its true function, here symbolised, is to be a guardian, to subordinate its natural greeds to a higher necessity, that of keeping watch over the deepest reality within us.
The two half-seen sentinels, then, may be our emotional and intellectual aspects, parts of us that can hunger and demand as ferociously as can our body, but less crudely. These longings too are called to be guardians. Nothing in us is to be suppressed, all is part of a whole, and a necessary part.
Mind and heart are servants, like the body, that Jesus summons to a sacred responsibility. This may sound solemn, yet the overall picture, as Pollock shows it, is one of radiance. Accepting the vocation to be guardian of a holy secret is to enter into life's fullness.