Thursday, March 1, 2012

Jackson Pollock

"Is he the greatest living painter in the United States?" Life asked in 1949 to the American public, echoing the words of art critic Clement Greenberg. Indeed, without a doubt Paul Jackson Pollock is considered one of the most influential American painters of all time. But he was a man veiled in mystery, as seen by the title of one of the popular documentaries on him, Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock?, and relatively unknown prior to his appearance in Life. What were the foundations for his inspiration, what profound effects did he have upon his contemporaries, and further, his legacy on the art world? His works were the culmination of prior art movements and mentors, yet he also synthesized something so completely novel and distinct, evolving his style over time until he attained perfection, that it is no wonder he is the artist of the most expensive creation ever sold, No. 5, 1948. He was recognized as one of the foremost leaders of the Abstract Expressionist movement.
            During this movement, Pollock studied historical works of art rather than contemporary works, going back to the Aztec, Mayan, Incan, and African influences. This primitive, romantic style arose in his work, as Pollock used the mind as "the artistic muse whose powers must be first unleashed" in "unbridled outbursts" and then "regrouped into . . . order" (Hobbs 299). How did he arrive at his unique technique though, now instantly recognizable and defined as drip painting? His works during this period appeared clairvoyant, as he poured out his mind into the drawings, infusing symbols and thoughts. He continued these until he could claim  "the source of [his]  painting is the unconscious," becoming  a complete  manifestation of psychic  automatism, and, until he could declare himself that “the painting has a life of its own” (Hughes 468-69). 
            Pollock’s unique contemporary style is what caught my eye. He was the leader of a movement, and his works are quite distinguished from the art at the time, and even now his effects are being felt.

He used his all-over, drip painting technique to make massive oil paintings such as Lavender Mist: Number 1, 1950, placing the canvas on the ground and working around it. He worked in layers upon layers upon layers, using the brush and can to spread the paint as you can see in this picture, and he made this masterpiece utilizing his unconscious, so the image here is almost like his dreams being unleashed in the visual world.

Full Fathom Five, the image here, was an earlier painting (1947) when Pollock was first developing his techniques. His method of pouring cans over a canvas laid out on the floor began around here, and he was vary the strokes and drips by how quickly he moved the paint, or by how long he let the painting settle. As before, there is a lot of depth within the image, and it looks vibrant and multidimensional, as the controlled and carefully though out strokes were layered on the painting, yet still looking almost accidental and unconscious.

The following painting, The Moon-Woman Cuts the Circle (1943), demonstrates Pollocks earlier phases, before his more famous drip paintings. He explored ancient works, such as cave paintings, searching for a more primitive and prehistoric style. The painting is extremely rough, but Pollock still put in his usual dedication and fervor, struggling with expressing freedom on his lines and defining the work to be his own.
Images provided by, scanned from books.

Works Cited:
Arnason, H. H. “Abstract Expressionism and the New American Sculpture.” History of Modern Art: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, Photography. Ed. Marla F. Prather and Daniel Wheeler. 4th ed. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1998. 437-42. Print.
Dempsey, Amy. “Abstract Expressionism.” Art in the Modern Era: A Guide to Styles, Schools & Movements. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2002. 188-91. Print.
Hughes, Robert. American Visions: The Epic History of Art in America. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997. 465-97. Print.
Hobbs, Robert C. "Early Abstract Expressionism and Surrealism ." Art Journal. 
     Vol. 45. College Art Association, 1985. 299-302. The Visionary Impulse: An 
     American Tendency. JSTOR. Web. 1 March 2012. < 
“Jackson Pollock,” Web. 1 March 2012. <>.

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