Reuben Kadish plays a key role as Jackson Pollock’s friend and confidante in Ed Harris’ motion picture, Pollock, but the film does not examine the depth or significance of their relationship. As art students in the early 1930s, both were out-siders whose interest in creativity and spirituality set them apart from most of their peers. When they met in 1931 Pollock was on a visit home, having already left Los Angeles to study in New York City. Kadish would also crisscross the country several times to visit New York and even-tually relocate there.
During that first summer of their friendship, he and Jackson frequented the Museum of the Southwest and the ethnographic exhibits at the Los Angeles County Museum, ignoring the contemporary art on display. As he later told Pollock’s biographers, Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, “we knew where the real vigor was, where the energy was.” They were also deeply interested in the work of the Mexican muralists. In the small, tight-knit avant-garde of their formative years, the value of their mutual support and encouragement should not be underestimated, especially in light of Pollock’s self-doubt and insecurity.
The two artists shared an aesthetic outlook based on formal boldness, technical experimentation, strong emotional content and subjective expression. Both came to maturity at a time of worldwide social and political upheaval, as well as artistic innovation, and this zeitgeist is reflected in their work. But more importantly, both found ways to synthesize their influences to create truly original and meaningful art in the face of widespread skepticism, frequent misunderstanding and occasional hostility.
After serving in the Army Artists Unit during World War II, Kadish returned to the United States and moved to New York City, where he and Pollock renewed their friend-ship. He worked as an assistant to the print-maker Stanley William Hayter, whose work-shop, Atelier 17, was located at 41 East 8th Street, across the street from the apartment Pollock and his lover, Lee Krasner, were sharing. Kadish taught Pollock to make engravings, and Hayter encouraged him to experiment with novel approaches to print-making. Posthumous impressions of some of those 1944-45 prints are on display in the Pollock-Krasner House.
In the summer of 1945, Kadish and his family had the use of a beach cottage on Louse Point, at the mouth of Accabonac Harbor, in the East Hampton hamlet of Springs. Knowing that Pollock and Krasner were too broke to afford their usual summer rental in Provincetown, he invited them to share the Louse Point cottage. As Kadish once remarked to me, if it had not been for that coincidence, there would be no Pollock-Krasner House today. It was the couple’s introduction to the area, which so appealed to them that they decided to leave New York City and move permanent- ly to Springs, where Pollock perfected the pouring technique that made him famous.
I am sincerely grateful to Regina Cherry, who suggested this exhibition and contributed in vital ways to its realization. (It was Regina’s husband, the painter Herman Cherry, who gave Kadish his first solo exhibition at the Stanley Rose Bookshop Gallery, which Cherry ran in the early 1930s.) She now serves on the board of the Reuben Kadish Art Foundation, which has provided the works for the exhibition. The foundation’s chairman, Judd Tully, went out of his way to facilitate all aspects of the exhibition and catalogue, for which he has written a sensitive appreciation of Kadish and his work. I also want to thank Rhonda Cooper, director of the University Art Gallery at Stony Brook University, and Mel Pekarsky, a member of the Art Department faculty and of the Reuben Kadish Art Foundation board, for their help and advice.
Neither the exhibition nor the catalogue would have been possible without a generous grant from the Judith Rothschild Foundation, which also supported our 2002 exhibition of paintings on paper by the late Herman Cherry. It is fitting that the work of both Cherry and Kadish—lifelong friends whose significant contributions to 20th century American art are less well known than they should be is receiving recognition under the foundation’s auspices.