Jackson Pollock’s Influence On Railway Modelling

In the early 70’s the Australian Government, led by Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, approved the purchase of the Jackson Pollock painting Blue Poles http://www.artchive.com/artchive/p/pollock/pollock_blue_poles.jpg. This purchase caused a huge stink in the community and suddenly everyone had an opinion about Pollock’s art. In most cases these opinions were pretty unflattering, including my own. At the time I was a very average student at Meadowbank Boys High in Sydney. I have a very clear memory of a conversation my Art class got into with the art teacher about the painting. When I offered the opinion that the painting was a mess of random swirls, my teacher very patiently attempted to explain rhythm and movement as it applied to art and how the artist had worked to control the viewer’s eyes by the placement of the poles in a specific pattern and then deliberately altering that pattern. I chose to remain a skeptic with regard to Jackson Pollock, but something must have sunk into the adolescent Hodges brain because I still remember what she tried to teach me. This can essentially be encapsulated by saying that it is the exception to a pattern that draws our eye, not just the pattern itself.

So what the heck does this have to do with model trains? Well this conversation about Jackson Pollock was on my mind this afternoon while I worked on the engine servicing scene on Morpeth MkII. While most of the models that will populate this module are now essentially complete, I’ve long been aware that this scene will be a big contrast to the one that will eventually appear on the other end of the layout. This part of the layout will be a wharf scene with a couple of ship/boat models, at least 3 major structures, a bridge and a wharf. By contrast, the engine servicing scene on the module I’m currently working on will have a collection of low, workaday structures that don’t offer a huge amount of intrinsic interest.

The model I’ve been working on this week is the small storage shed that will serve as a the centre-piece of this module. There is absolutely nothing special about the structure itself beyond the rather home-brewed nature of the exterior weather shelter that stands next to it. As I worked on preparing the various details that will sit along the front of this model and took the photo that will accompany this text, that conversation about Jackson Pollock came into my mind. While there will be plenty of shrubs, weeds and fences all over this module, I’m going to very deliberately keep the built detail to a minimum to draw the viewer’s eye to the detail in front of the shed and to the human figure that will stand to one side. The human eye is invariably drawn to detail and human figures, even when that detail is 1:43.5. So the intention is twofold: firstly to provide a graphic contrast to what wil be an extremely busy scene at the other end of the layout and secondly to direct the viewers attention where I want it to be rather than randomly all over a “mess of random swirls”.

I’ve placed the coal stage in front of the shed model to allow the viewer to discover the detail in front of the shed somewhat. You can only get a really clear view from either side, not driectly from the front. Rather than spread detail across the entire surface of the module, I want the viewer to walk down the scene and “discover” the richness of human detail: the tools, drums and an old wardrobe that sit clustered along the front of the shed and its accompanying weather shelter. The position of the models funnels the eye down to this detail. If the module were blanketed under a thick layer of detail this would not allow the viewer any “rest” and their eye would not be drawn the detail I want to highlight.

My high school art teacher should be proud of her teaching but I still think Blues Poles is rubbish 🙂

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