Pollock is centrepiece of play

Bakersfield Mist uses art appraisal issues to generate great acting

By Byron Toben

Jackson Pollock lived fast, with school expulsions, alcoholism and fast driving. His life ended in a Long Island car crash at age 44. Still, he managed to shake up the art world with his unique ‘drip’ paintings in the early 1950s. Didn’t hurt to being championed by heiress Peggy Guggenheim. Currently, he is again included in a retrospective exhibit of influential artists, mostly abstract, of the past century at her uncle’s New York citadel, the Guggenheim Museum.

forged Jackson Pollock painting WestmountMag.ca

Example of a forged Jackson Pollock painting

Fake or imitative paintings and sculptures have been with us since ancient times. Non objective works have often been targets due to their hard to attribute squiqqles, drops and gobs. There have been dozens of fake Pollocks over the years. This has created work for various experts to verify the ‘provenance’ of a given item.

Better yet. It has inspired playwright Stephen Sachs (13 plays) to create Bakersfield Mist, based on a true incident and now being performed worldwide. Under the vigorous direction of Roy Surette, it is both profound and a guaranteed laugh getter.

I loved the bit of stage business where Lionel, before viewing the canvas, “warms up” with stretches and breathings, much like an athlete or concert pianist.

Bakersfield Mist WestmountMag.caWelcome back to Centaur stage, the wonderful Nicola Cavendish. Noted for her Shirley Valentine portrayals across Canada, she is here Maude, a brash divorcee living in a trailer park surrounded by kitsch items she picks up at yard sales. One such item is a canvas with non-objective lines and dots, costing only $3. Informed later that it reminds one of Pollock, whose works now sell north of $50 million, she scrimps to bring Lionel (Jonathan Monro) the top Pollock expert to her abode for an evaluation.

Bakersfield Mist WestmountMag.caI loved the bit of stage business where Lionel, before viewing the canvas, “warms up” with stretches and breathings, much like an athlete or concert pianist. He rules negatively. This invokes a lot of class differences and even sexual innuendos. The prim expert who just ‘knows’ that the painting is not authentic vs. the earthy owner who ‘believes’ in her truth and even has a research trick up her sleeve.

What a fine two hander this is!

Can’t resist mentioning Pollock’s artist wife Lee Krasner, who is not mentioned in this play. Inspired by viewing his early paintings, she arrived at his doorstep unannounced and later they married. Her energy and promotion had much to do with his success. She outlived him by 31 years, dying at 75. His mistress survived that car crash, although her friend, also in the car, perished.

Bakersfield Mist ends on February 26.
More information and tickets at 514 288-3161 or centaurtheatre.com

Images: David Cooper

Byron Toben is the immediate past-president of the Montreal Press Club

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