Faces of Abstract Expression

March 28, 2013
Pollock’s “Number 7” is looking at you.
Pollock’s “Number 7” is looking at you.

The Phillips Collection calls the show “Angels, Demons, and Savages: Pollock, Ossorio, Dubuffet.” An alternate title might be “Faces in the Crowd.” Few of the intricately, exuberantly painted canvases in this exhibition, which runs through May 12, are purely abstract. The forms of living creatures often emerge from the welter of brushstrokes — even in the work of Jackson Pollock, the emperor of abstract expressionism.

Number 7 (1952)
Pollock was working in the Greenwich Village studio of Alfonso Ossorio, Philippines-born heir to a sugar fortune, when he made this loose but clearly recognizable image of a face. The cocky artist called the paint-on-canvas work a “drawing,“ a taunt to “the kids who think it simple to splash a Pollock out.”

Landscape with Dog (1951)
France’s Jean Dubuffet, friend to Ossorio and inspiration to Pollock, extolled “the values of savagery … instinct, passion, mood, violence, madness.” The dog isn’t snarling, but Dubuffet’s “art brut” style growled at prissy painting.

Red Family (1955)
Red is indeed the key to this Ossorio canvas, a jumble of loose black lines in which color defines the forms of two adults and two children. The drama and intensity reflect the influence of traditional religious painting.

The Phillips Collection, 1600 21st St. NW; through May 12, $12; 202-387-2151. (Dupont Circle)
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