An Interview with Artist Bruce Pollock

February, 2009

JK: Moving to a flat surface, you next worked in enamel on wood panels.

BP: The Enamel paintings began with the idea of the painting as an extension of the wall. I would attach shelves, frames and other objects, cut or punch holes in the panels, and paint them with many layers of paint with geometric patterns, shapes, symbols, and words. Then, as with the Blocks, I would reverse the process, sanding through the layers, excavating the images and colors embedded in the earlier layers of paint.

In Ode, two shelves are attached to the wood, the words of an ode are scripted on horizontal lines, and a cascade of gold octahedrons spills down the panel. I considered these works painted objects rather than paintings, attaching objects—like shelves—to the surface to emphasize this. Objects could be placed on the shelves, inviting viewer participation. The connection among these elements is obscure—just as the words of the ode are obscured. I intended these paintings to be confounding, mysterious, sort of arcane signboards.

ODE, enamel paint on plywood with additions,
183 x 122 x 15 cm (72 x 48 x 6 in), 1986

The title of the following painting refers to the mathematician, Euclid, and is also the name of the street I lived on as a student in Cleveland. In Euclid I’m playing with different ideas of representation. Painted geometric objects and cutout metal shapes are attached to the painting in addition to the painted representations of both three-dimensional objects and flat shapes.

Euclid, enamel paint on plywood with metal and wood additions,
127 x 193 cm (50 x 76 in), 1986

JK: And Volvox?

Volvox, enamel paint on plywood, 117 x 234 cm (46 x 92 in), 1986

The Volvox is a microscopic pond organism that resembles the spherical orange structure in the painting. The spirals are whirling electrons or galaxies. The painting concerns the relative scale of things, the micro- and macrocosms.

JK: Bardo appears to be filled with symbolic forms.

BP:  A “bardo” is a state of transition between levels of consciousness or conditions of being. It’s a Tibetan Buddhist concept. I was concerned with the symbolic aspects of color and geometric form: an hourglass, portions of two large eclipsing circles—the sun and moon, concentric ripples of a drop in a pool or ocean, an emerging red branch. These images can be read formally as geometric shapes or symbolically. The Enamel paintings have multiple levels of interpretation as they have multiple layers of paint.

Bardo, enamels on wood, 152 x 152 cm (60 x 60 in), 1987

I enjoyed the process of layering and sanding the enamel, but around 1987 I had to stop working with the material because of its toxicity, and I switched to acrylic paint.

Source, acrylic on canvas,
193 x 147 cm (76 x 58 in), 1988

I took advantage of the fast drying time of the acrylics, painting in layers, blotting up the wet paint and applying additional layers. The painting process was faster, more fluid and direct. Affected by this accelerated process, the figure and ground relationship changed. The subject of each painting was a luminous apparition that emerged from a dark field.

In Source, OD, and Spellbound, the subject is an illuminated form set against a dark ground. The blotting application method I used scarified the surface, giving it an earthy texture.

OD, acrylic on canvas,
152 x 119 cm (60 x 47 in), 1
Spellbound, acrylic on canvas,
152 x 119 cm (60 x 47 in),

JK: Next you produced an ink on paper series.

Inner Infinities IInner Infinities 2
Inner Infinities I, sepia and India ink
on watercolor paper, 36 x 28 cm
(14 x 11 in), 1991
Inner Infinities 2sepia and India ink
on watercolor paper, 36 x 28 cm (14 x 11 in),

There were several personal changes in my life at this time that led me to a change in direction. I began making wet on wet drawings with ink that I later titled Inner Infinities. These paintings emerged from a state of meditative focus. I would drop ink on the wet paper, allowing the ink to flow naturally while slowly coaxing an image out of the pattern made by the dispersing ink.

The Labyrinth paintings were my return to oil painting. Like the Inner Infinities, they were the result of a process of meditative awareness—focusing on a point in the center of the canvas and moving out past its edges. I wanted to slow down the eye of the viewer by engaging it in the labyrinth’s winding path.

Labyrinth 1
Labyrinth 1, oil on canvas, 41 x 36 cm (16 x 14 in), 1995

I was exploring different linear structures and patterns: concentric circles, meanders and crystalline networks. I envisioned the canvas as a finite portal into an infinite field, focusing on a pattern event that was occurring in a vaster space.

Labyrinth 2
Labyrinth 2, oil on canvas, 56 x 46 cm (22 x 18 in), 1996

The Labyrinth paintings began a new cycle of work that would bring me to the present. I wanted to make a painted image that would have an immediate impact and then slowly unravel its secrets—like looking at a flower: first the beautiful impression of the whole, then looking closer at the complexity of its parts, patterns, geometry and subtle color differentiation.

JK: Next, complex patterns based on hexagons and circles began to fill your canvases from edge to edge.

Pinion, oil on canvas, 86 x 71 cm (34 x 28 in), 1997

BP: Yes. I was exploring geometric patterns made by repeating circles and hexagons. In Pinion, above, concentric circles radiate and overlap like raindrops on a pool, while Net of Indra, below, is based on a pattern of recursive hexagons.

JK: Net of Indra is a large painting—almost six feet tall.

BP: I began working on much larger canvases. I wanted the paintings to fill a bigger visual field that a viewer could readily enter.

Net of Indra uses a hexagonal fractal to build a complex linear network. In the detail you can see how the hexagons are self-organizing, nesting one within the other to create a crystal-like structure. Progressing from background to foreground, layers are woven together into an interlocking tapestry, with smaller units organizing themselves into larger wholes.

Net of IndraNet of Indra detail
Net of Indra, oil on canvas,
178 x 152 cm (70 x 60 in), 1997
Net of Indra detail

With Net of Indra I found a drawing system consisting of grids of irregular hexagons and circles. A circle can be inscribed within a hexagon or a hexagon within a circle. The hexagon and circle can be scaled to any dimension and maintain their shapes. They are basic fractals and are self-organizing. With this system I could create patterns within patterns. The possible patterns and their combinations generated by this system seemed endless. This system was just what I needed to express my growing interest in networks, patterns and energy fields.

In Trinity you can see the same pattern in play, with hexagonal networks radiating from a triangular formation. These networks are formal devices and also a powerful metaphor. In our current Information Age, the interconnections among entities and ideas are as essential as the entities themselves. These networks function invisibly, but they are real. In my paintings I’m giving an image to these unseen, but omnipresent, forces.

TrinityTrinity detail
Trinity, oil on canvas,
137 x 118 cm (54 x 47 in), 1998
Trinity detail

JK: And the networks in Kapi?

BP: Kapi interweaves hexagonal and circular networks and layers that result in a third irregular pattern. The posies are made from the outline of seven circles that fit within this pattern. The larger size of these paintings permitted me to deal with an increased scale of patterning and level of complexity

KapiKapi detail
Kapi, oil on canvas,119 x 145 cm (47 x 57 in), 1998Kapi detail

JK: The web pattern in Light Net is made up of hexagons.

BP: Yes. The hexagonal network is a fractal pattern that resembles a honeycomb.

Light NetLight Net detail
Light Net , oil on canvas,
119 x 97 cm (47 x 38 in), 2001
Light Net detail

The hexagonal pattern in Light Net becomes a pattern of polygons and circles wrapped around a golden spiral in Materializing Light. In these paintings, I’m using geometry and color to stretch spatial relationships.

Materializing Light
Materializing Light, oil on canvas,
102 x 91 cm (40 x 36 in), 2001

The concentration of light in the center of these paintings is due to the color effect called “inherent light.” This effect, produced by hues gradated in value and intensity, makes color appear luminous. I apply it in painting the geometric networks.

In Yonder, the hexagonal pattern is used; however, the hexagons are filled in to form cubes that dissolve into the light at the painting’s center.  An underlying theme in this work concerns the dialectic between color and form as a metaphor for material and spiritual forces. Forms appear and then disappear into luminous centers.

Yonder, oil on canvas, 122 x 107 cm (48 x 42 in), 2004

The hexagonal pattern is a crystallographic structure present in nature at all levels of scale. It’s a cosmic cipher embedded deeply in the structure of both our physical and mental realities.

In addition to nets or webs, in 2001 I returned to the spiral, a form I’d used in earlier work. I was also interested in the spatial action of color—that is, the quality of colors to advance or recede in space in relation to surrounding colors. Paintings like Dark Sinistral and Red Drexel, below, are based on the dynamics of the equiangular spiral. The spatial arrangement of circles in contrasting color gradients produces tension along the spiral’s path. I painted a series of these works to understand how different color arrangements deploy these tensions.

Dark Sinistral
Dark Sinistral, oil on canvas, 122 x 102 cm (48 x 40 in), 2002

Each circle contains seven circles that are equal in diameter to one another. This pattern is a basic fractal and could go on indefinitely. The diminishing scale of the spiral’s path, fractal scaling and the spatial action of color work together to emphasize the painting’s multi-dimensional space.

The intersensory power of color was also a growing interest. Colors can be heard in the inner ear, and they carry an emotional response. In these paintings and those that followed, my colors become more saturated.

Red DrexelRed Drexel detail
Red Drexel, oil on canvas,
122 x 102 cm (48 x 40 in), 2003
Red Drexel detail

JK: Paintings like Axis Mundi suggest the structure of plant growth.

BP: The fractal geometry that occurs in the growth bud of plants, or the “meristem” as it is botanically termed, gives these painting their structure. This form represents the internal forces of the plant acted on by the exterior force of space.

Axis MundiAxis Mundi detail
Axis Mundioil on canvas,
152 x 137 cm (60 x 54 in), 2003
Axis Mundi detail

 This form is a central theme in my work. Like the spiral, this structure grows from a vanishing point in the center of the canvas to progressively greater scales at the edges where it would seemingly go on indefinitely.

Meristem, oil on canvas, 91 x 79 cm (36 x 31 in), 2006

In Yellow Net I’m continuing to explore the possibilities of the hexagonal pattern using limited color ranges and optical color mixtures.

Yellow Net
Yellow Net, oil on canvas, 91 x 76 cm (36 x 30 in), 2008

The Square paintings of 2008 are a part of my current Cluster group. In them I continue my exploration of endless patterning and color perception, expanding the idea of the picture plane as not only a site for painting, but also a window onto a limitless universe.

Blue Square
Blue Square, oil on canvas, 61 x 61 cm (24 x 24 in), 2008

Painting gives shape and color to the formless voices and visions of my imagination. To me, the paintings are stages upon which cosmic forces interact, where the intimate and the universal coalesce into one body. They speak of worlds and molecules, of the ineffable and the tangible, of things that are paused at the edge of becoming.

I live in a busy urban area; my environment consists primarily of pavement and brick. To connect with nature, I must look within cracks in the pavement, the changing sky, and other unobvious places.

Bruce Pollock in the studio before Cluster 2


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Interview images and text copyright © 2009 Julie Karabenick & Bruce Pollock. All Rights Reserved.

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