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'Ugly' Painting's Creator Still Disputed; Now Artists Claim It

Woman who bought the work in a San Bernardino thrift store in 1992 says it's a Pollock. Other artists say it's theirs.

October 03, 2003|Kristina Sauerwein | Times Staff Writer

Is it, or isn't it a Jackson Pollock?

The case of the "ugly" painting is getting uglier, despite new forensic evidence supporting claims that a retired trucker's $5 junk-store bargain is the work of Pollock, a leader of the Abstract Expressionist movement known for covering canvases with dribbles and splashes of paint, often straight from the can.

Now a Los Angeles artist says he's convinced he created the artwork. Roberto Gutierrez said he recalls imitating Pollock's style on a large canvas in the 1970s and then discarding the painting in a Pico Rivera alley.

As evidence, Gutierrez has offered pictures of himself from the era, posing near a Pollock-like piece, as well as an old paint-splattered paper cap he says might prove his point, if only an art expert would examine it.

Gutierrez is among a dozen artists who have taken credit for the painting. All have been dismissed by a forensic art specialist who studied the painting, concluding it was the work of Pollock, whose style captivated the art world during the late 1940s and '50s. The artist died in 1956.

Canadian art specialist Peter Paul Biro said a report he revised last month contains corroboration from a Canadian law-enforcement expert that a fingerprint on the piece was Pollock's. A pigment analyst also matched a sample of acrylic paint with one found on the artist's studio floor in New York.

Such scientific proof should dispel doubts about authenticity, said Biro, who conducted a three-year analysis of the painting, discovered more than a decade ago in a now-defunct shop in San Bernardino.

However, the art community -- specifically the International Foundation for Art Research -- argues that the evidence, including lack of provenance and absence of documentation, demonstrates that the piece is not a Pollock.

Teri Horton, 72, of Costa Mesa is angry. She bought the painting in 1992 and is still waiting for her payout. With its dizzying swirls of red, yellow and other primary colors, the 66-inch-by-48-inch canvas, if a Pollock, could command millions of dollars for the retired truck driver who paid $5 for it because it was "ugly" enough to cheer a downtrodden friend.

A Pollock painting similar in size to Horton's piece sold for $11.5 million.

Horton has no qualms about wanting to sell the painting and pocket millions. "I want the money," she said. "I have no personal connection to it. I still think it's ugly."

IFAR, the art nonprofit group based in New York, insists it is not.

"We did considerable work on [Horton's] painting, and we involved several noted specialists who examined the work closely," wrote IFAR's executive director, Sharon Flescher.

"It was our opinion, based on the opinions of the specialists we consulted and on our research, that the work was not by Jackson Pollock."

Flescher noted that her group, which specializes in authenticity and other legal and ethical issues concerning works of art, has no stake in whether the painting is a Pollock.

IFAR declined to put The Times in touch with its Pollock experts. "IFAR consults with some of the world's most respected specialists -- art historians, connoisseurs and conservators -- on any given artist," Flescher said.

"Some specialists, however, whether because of their museum or university affiliation, or for other reasons, choose not to make their names known. We tell our clients that in advance. In the case of Jackson Pollock reviews, the specialists have requested that we keep their names confidential."

Comparing himself to a detective, Biro said the latest fingerprint comparison "provides a concrete connection between Teri's painting and a paint can exhibited at the Pollock studio. The paint can was unquestionably Pollock's. The fingerprint was left in still-wet paint on it. The independent confirmation is just good science."

The fact that Pollock's brother lived in the Inland Empire suggested a connection between the artist's work and the West Coast.

Gutierrez invited art specialists to examine Horton's piece, his artwork, paint samples he has from 30 years ago and a photograph of himself standing in front of a Pollock-like painting.

"They'll find my fingerprint on [Horton's] painting," he said. "I know in my heart it's mine."

Horton dismissed Gutierrez and the others. "They just want attention," she said. "The art community can be uglier than my painting. I'm ready to sell it and move on."

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