A Lifetime of Learning

Article Published: Sep. 23, 2010 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
A Lifetime of Learning

Artist Jean Pollock sits with her work at Alta Vista Gallery in Valle Crucis.

Photo by Frank Ruggiero

When artist Jean Pollock visited Claude Monet's home in Vernon, France, her attention was captured by the very same bridge the legendary impressionist painted in numerous works.

As she painted that same image, distractions simply would not do, including an attempted conversation from a passerby, a fellow American woman.

Offering short replies and less than her undivided attention, Pollock was relieved when the woman finally left, only to be replaced by an Englishman with whom she'd been traveling.

"Did you see Julia Roberts?" the Englishman asked her.

"No, I didn't see Julia Roberts," Pollock replied.

"Well, you were talking to her for 30 minutes," he said.

Pollock learned a lesson that day: Pay more attention to whom you're talking.

It's one of many lessons that the 82-year-old impressionist continues to learn.

"I don't think I'm ever really satisfied," she said. "No artist ever really arrives - if you're not still learning, you're not growing."

As such, Pollock's own body of work is growing locally at the Alta Vista Gallery in Valle Crucis, and a reception Saturday, Sept. 25, will celebrate her newest artistic endeavors.

Alta Vista's walls are lined with Pollock's colorful oil paintings, impressionist tableaus of the High Country's picturesque scenery, from Price Lake to Blue Ridge Parkway bridges to whatever captures her sharp eye - be it painting en plein air or from a photograph she's taken.

"I look at the photo, and then put it away, so I paint only what I feel," she said. "The expression of how you feel about it is more important than the subject. Most everything is beautiful. I think that artists are blessed because we see more, we see with our eyes more.

"When you look at those green trees, there are ever so many shades of green, while most people see it only as green. I think that God gives us eyes to see, and I'm just thankful to be a painter."

Needless to say, Pollock's a fan of color, and, to her, oils are the perfect medium with which to experiment.

"One color affects another color," she said. "You have to sort of know what's going to happen, but you never quite know."

Pollock wonders if her peers felt the same way, and she's been known to spend hours in museums contemplating and observing.

"I don't think you could look at great paintings enough," she said. "That's where you learn - museums. You learn from looking."

And look she does. Take, for example, the work of Henri Matisse. When an exhibit in New York brought some 450 of his paintings stateside, Pollock was there.

"They were great, and it took me six hours to get through them," she said. "And then I go back to see them at least once afterward."

Pollock's travels have afforded her plenty of opportunities. Her husband, Henry, served as an Army chaplain, meaning the couple traveled throughout the nation and then some, even spending time in Alaska.

"It was beautiful there," Pollock said. "Everything I painted there I sold. I came home with nothing."

She came home with "nothing," but for experience, which she's shared for the last 30 years through teaching.

But Pollock's built a lifetime of experience, dating back to age 10. She was one of six children, growing up on a farm. Her mother would read to them about foreign lands, countries and their famous painters.

"I though that'd be fun," Pollock said. "I'd like to be a painter."

Though she also considered dancing, writing and sundry artistic vocations, Pollock was captivated by the palette. While browsing through a Sears Roebuck catalog, she spotted a set of oil paints and asked for them for Christmas.

In the 1930s, such a set ran between $6 and $7, a steep price when a family had to consider presents for six children. She patiently waited two years, when a bright Christmas morning found a set of oil paints.

"There were directions on the lid of the box to mix paints, so that's how I started experimenting with them," Pollock said.

Years later, she took several art courses in college, but being the school wasn't art-oriented, she didn't glean very much from classroom studies. She kept painting, however, while working as an English and drama teacher, and even after having children.

"I knew I didn't have time to go back to school, so I bought books, and I studied," she said. "I read constantly about artists, I'd go to museums and look till my eyes dropped out, and I'd experiment."

And Pollock took whatever workshops were available, including some from acclaimed artists Wolf Kahn and Maud Gatewood.

Since then, she's received countless accolades, and her artwork can be found nationwide in galleries and collections both private and corporate. She's also been mistaken for a relative of noted abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock.

"I watched a movie about Jackson Pollock ... and the script said he was in the peak of his production," she said. "But who knows what that would've been if he was still living? No artist ever gets to that."

And at 82, Pollock's still getting there, with finesse, grace and a keen sense of humor.
"Every now and then I threaten to sign my paintings 'J. Pollock' to confuse people," she said.

Art lovers will have a chance to meet Jean Pollock and her artwork on Saturday, Sept. 25, at Alta Vista Gallery from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information and directions, visit http://www.altavistagallery.com.

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