Jackson Pollock spawned a thousand imitators in the art world when he chose to work in denim jeans and a t-shirt. Referred to somewhat derogatorily as ‘Jack the Dripper’ by Time magazine, his paint splattered denim was copied by, among others, Max Ernst and Andy Warhol. Costume design for the film Pollock (2000) by David C. Robinson precisely recreates his most iconic workwear looks.
At the start of the story as a struggling artist, Pollock (Ed Harris) is straightaway established as an outsider against the progressive backdrop of metropolitan New York. Fuelled by an alcoholism that he never recovered from, Pollock was eager to succeed although had yet to find his true artistic voice. His clothes, like his art, were inspired, at least in part during those early years, by Pablo Picasso.
Picasso often painted in casual, lightweight denim. Similarly we see Pollock working in dark rinse jeans with thick selvedge turn-ups and a plain white t-shirt. Even though he stood out as different in the ‘civilised’ art world, Pollock’s true calling only came when he moved away from NYC to Long Island. Here he discovered, quite accidently, his unique method of dripping paint onto a floor splayed canvas. A ‘Jackson Pollock’ as we recognise it today was born.
Throughout this time in self imposed exile with wife and fellow artist Lee Krasner (Marcia Gay Harden), Pollock patented his day-to-day attire, which as workwear or semi-formal was now indistinguishable. Favouring Lee or Levi jeans with a Lee 101 slimline jacket, his visual iconography was established around the same time as his art. He had almost a glory decade in the forties, certainly during the ‘drip period’ up to 1950.
Pollock’s very anti-style denim ensemble was instrumental in creating the look that made James Dean and later Marlon Brando stars of cinema. They brought denim to youth, but only after Pollock and his ilk had given the fabric artistic meaning.
David C. Robinson accurately sourced garments as functional attire for Ed Harris. He wears the costume like he wears the character; essentially understanding the man by understanding his appearance. Pollock did not just put on clothes, he put on a uniform.
Nowhere is this better illustrated than during the scene when Life magazine visits Pollock’s rural studio and he is ‘dressed’ by Krasner for a photograph standing next to his work. Drawing on a cigarette, he dons dark denim jeans and Lee Loco jacket, worn leather boots, scarf and tight black t-shirt – something barely considered more than underwear in the late 1940s.
Pollock was now an image as much as a person. Was he aware of this? Possibly. He feared success as much as he embraced it. He would soon become a caricature of the rebellious artist in denim; Pollock would lose his identity as he eventually lost control of his art.
A pair of jeans actually worn in the movie were purchased at a charity auction for just $200 by Lisa J. Sohl, complete with a certificate of authenticity signed by Ed Harris. Analysing the images she forwarded to Clothes on Film, it is apparent that, although authentic, these jeans are not actually vintage due to absence of double white line selvedge which would have been present on jeans of the forties, although by the late 1950s selvedge in standard production Lee jeans had disappeared. They are cut high rise in a slim size, obviously reflecting Harris’ lean figure during the first and second act of the film.
During the final act Pollock resembles Pablo Picasso more overtly than ever wearing a sailor striped t-shirt and loose slacks. Lee Krasner had now left him, unable to cope with marital indiscretions he refused to curb. Pollock was powerless to regain himself and, as such, those glory years. In the end he was unable to accept that that those at the top have only one place left to go – down.
In sartorial terms Pollock will be remembered for his contribution to avant-garde defiance. By the 1950s, teenagers frightened, and soon ruled the world, yet they would not have had the costume to do so without Pollock. This excellent, unrelenting movie goes some way to establishing that.
© 2011 – 2013, Christopher Laverty.