The Pollock Dinners: A Fusion of Art, Food and Fashion
When Australian photographer and author, Robyn Lea, decided to write a book on the famous American artist, Jackson Pollock, (best known for his 1952 work, Blue Poles), she was drawn to the recipes that shaped his family life as much as the art that directed his culinary palette.
woman with drive sat down with Robyn Lea and Jackson’s niece, Francesca, to talk about art, friendship, food and Robyn’s new book, Dinner with Jackson Pollock: Recipes, Art & Nature.
How did you two meet?
Francesca: Robyn and I met in May 2014 in New York when I was there with my husband to introduce our baby daughter, Tallulah, to my family. Although we have known each other for a rather short time, I feel I have known her forever. There is a special connection between us.
I was immediately taken by the quality and elegance of her project. As for the memories it stirred, of course, I care about everything related to food and style in my family. I was even able to locate my grandmother’s little red recipe book, which Robyn used. Right now what comes to mind is my father (Charles Pollock) talking about how his mother, Stella, liked nothing “shoddy” – only the best quality, the most beautiful. She was known for that.
What did your friendship with Francesca reveal about the Pollock family?
Robyn: Francesca, like her late father, has a very straightforward and unromanticised view of her famous family and her Uncle Jackson. She taught me that the family was industrious and open-minded, and in sharing family letters and documents it became clear that Jackson’s genius did not spring from a vacuum but was largely encouraged by Charles and their parents Stella and LeRoy. Charles was the creative trailblazer of the five Pollock brothers, and he encouraged Jackson to follow him to art school in New York in 1930 to study under the same teacher, Thomas Hart Benton.
American designer, Lisa Perry, has taken aspects from Jackson’s Blue Poles print to reinterpret in her Spring/Summer 2016 collection. How do you feel about fashion borrowing from art?
Francesca: I do not have anything against it, especially when it is well done, which is the case with Lisa’s collection. In fact, I find it quite touching. It is like homage and a way of saying “thank you” for the visual inspiration. Lisa is a real connoisseur and an important art collector. She has an eye. I do not think I would wear her clothes myself, not because I do not like them, but because of the message it might send. Something like “look I am a Pollock wearing a Pollock”. That would be a little awkward. But during a recent dinner at Lisa’s in the Hamptons, Robyn was wearing one of her jackets and it looked fabulous.
How did that Hamptons dinner come about?
Robyn: Lisa approached my publisher, Assouline, after hearing about my book. She had been working on her Pollock-inspired collection and thought it would be fun to create an event combining the book, the food, her collection and her friends from the art and fashion circles in New York who spend their summer in the Hamptons.
Around 50 dinner guests were at the Perry estate near Sag Harbor and we started with drinks on the back lawn overlooking the bay. We were treated to a three-course meal based on recipes from Dinner with Jackson Pollock. We started with the borscht served chilled with swirls of white sour cream on the top, then the French-style roast chicken with herb stuffing. Lisa and I gave speeches, and then dessert was served on large trays down the centre of each table. Lisa handed out paint-splattered aprons and the guests splattered the desserts with brightly coloured fruit syrups and sauces.
Will Lisa’s collection reignite interest in Jackson’s work?
Robyn: Yes, and not just among art-lovers but also fashion-lovers. The front windows of Lisa’s East Hampton pop-up shop showed her Pollock-inspired collection alongside the book, paint cans, brushes, and other still-life references. The store is center stage in East Hampton’s main street and the foot traffic there in high summer includes many New York tastemakers and influencers.
Can fashion do art justice?
Robyn: I think fashion can sometimes reflect the trends and changes in art in a fun way. The link between Jackson and fashion can be traced as far back as March 1951 when Cecil Beaton photographed models for Vogue in front of Jackson’s paintings at the Betty Parsons Gallery in New York City. With Lisa’s new collection, the marriage of art and fashion continues to show Jackson’s influence in today’s culture.
Will more dinner parties be hosted around the world?
Robyn: Yes, many more Jackson Pollock meals will be shared around the world with recipes from Dinner with Jackson Pollock. I recently attended one at the home of Michael Braverman of Hamptons Magazine. He hosted a special book-launch dinner for 12 friends after hosting another a week ago for 80 guests at his home. Michael is passionate about books and entertaining and given the close proximity of his East Hampton home to Jackson’s former home, it seems fitting that this is taking place.
How close was Charles to Jackson? Being the eldest, he surely would have influenced Jackson in some ways?
Francesca: It is difficult to answer this question because as in all questions related to this family, one has to take into consideration the historical times. In the 1930s, there was no email, no easy means of communication and the family wrote letters across the country. But if you read the 1929 letter from Charles to Jackson you can see how close they were and what a role model Charles was to Jackson. On his deathbed, one of the Pollock brothers is reported to have said that if Charles had become a plumber, they all would have become plumbers! One has to imagine what it meant for them in the 1920s to have a brother who went first to Los Angeles and then to New York because he wanted to become an Artist with a capital A.
What is the best advice your father shared with you?
Francesca: What remains the most important thing my father transmitted to me is modesty. I cherish it. Finding it has helped me in life. And I think he had a way of believing in himself, in what he was doing, that has also helped me.
What recipe do you most love in this book?
Robyn: I love the raspberry poached pears with Bavarian cream. When Jackson and Lee hosted dinner parties, Lee would often accept offers from guests to bring dessert. But instead of being grateful for whatever dessert was chosen, Lee would provide the guest a recipe and then dictate exactly what brand of ingredients to use and exactly how she wanted it presented on the platter. Very demanding in some ways, but the result is beautiful and to me it reflects how important the visual aspect of food presentation was for them.
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