Jackson Pollock Life and Art Periods

"It doesn't make much difference how the paint is put on as long as something has been said. Technique is just a means of arriving at a statement."

JACKSON POLLOCK SYNOPSIS

In its edition of August 8th, 1949, Life magazine ran a feature article about Jackson Pollock that bore this question in the headline: "Is he the greatest living painter in the United States?" Could a painter who flung paint at canvases with a stick, who poured and hurled it to create roiling vortexes of color and line, possibly be considered "great"? New York's critics certainly thought so, and Pollock's pre-eminence among the Abstract Expressionists has endured, cemented by the legend of his alcoholism and his early death. The famous 'drip paintings' that he began to produce in the late 1940s represent one of the most original bodies of work of the century. At times they could suggest the life-force in nature itself, at others they could evoke man's entrapment - in the body, in the anxious mind, and in the newly frightening modern world.

JACKSON POLLOCK KEY IDEAS

Pollock's tough and unsettled early life growing up in the American West shaped him into the bullish character he would become. Later, a series of influences came together to guide Pollock to his mature style: years spent painting realist murals in the 1930s showed him the power of painting on a large scale; Surrealism suggested ways to describe the unconscious; and Cubism guided his understanding of picture space.
In 1939, Pollock began visiting a Jungian analyst to treat his alcoholism, and his analyst encouraged him to create drawings. These would later feed his paintings, and they shaped Pollock's understanding of his pictures not only as outpourings of his own mind, but expressions that might stand for the terror of all modern humanity living in the shadow of nuclear war.
Pollock's greatness lies in developing one of the most radical abstract styles in the history of modern art, detaching line from color, redefining the categories of drawing and painting, and finding new means to describe pictorial space.
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JACKSON POLLOCK BIOGRAPHY

Childhood

Paul Jackson Pollock was born in Cody, Wyoming, in 1912, the fifth and youngest son of a family of Irish-Scotch extraction. Pollock was only ten months old when the family moved to San Diego. His father's work as a surveyor would force them to move repeatedly around the Southwest in subsequent years, until, when Pollock was aged nine, his father abandoned the family, only to return when Jackson himself had left home. The West of Pollock's childhood provided a tough upbringing, but he grew to love nature - animals and the expanse of the land - and while living in Phoenix in 1923 he discovered Native American art.

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Early training

Pollock attended the Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles, where he befriended Philip Guston, and where he was also introduced to theosophical ideas which prepared him for his later interests in Surrealism and psychoanalysis. Two of Pollock's older brothers, Charles and Sanford, also pursued careers as artists, and it was their encouragement which lured him to New York in 1930, where he studied under Regionalist painter Thomas Hart Benton at the Art Students League.

In New York Pollock was attracted to Old Masters and began to study mural painting. He posed for Benton's 1930-31 murals at the New School for Social Research, and he met the prominent Mexican muralist José Clemente Orozco. He later spent a summer observing Diego Rivera paint murals at the New Workers School, and in 1936 he joined the Experimental Workshop of another muralist, David Alfaro Siqueiros, where he learned to employ unorthodox painting techniques. Pollock's own canvas, Going West (1934-35), blends many of these influences and is typical of his style at this time. In 1937, he was assigned to the Easel Division of the Works Progress Administration's Federal Art Project.

During much of the 1930s Pollock lived with his brothers in Greenwich Village, and was at times so poor that he had to work as a janitor and steal food to survive. In 1932, however, he was invited to participate in the 8th Exhibition of Watercolors, Pastels and Drawings by American and French Artists at the Brooklyn Museum, his first exhibition.

Mature period

In 1936, Pollock briefly met Lenore ("Lee") Krasner. In time, their relationship would bring some of the few spells of calm and happiness that Pollock ever knew. But the two did not meet again until 1941, after which they became romantically involved and married in 1945. Meanwhile, Pollock's alcoholism - which had been a problem since his adolescence - drove him into treatment as early as 1938, and by 1939 he was receiving Jungian psychoanalysis. His analyst encouraged him to produce drawings to aid his recovery, and the methods and motifs in these drawings - albeit shaped by Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso, Jose Clemente Orozco and the theories of John Graham - soon found their way into works such as Guardians of the Secret(1943).


Despite his personal problems, Pollock remained bullishly confident in his art. Krasner was impressed when she saw his work in the early 1940s and introduced him to her teacher, Hans Hofmann. Hofmann was similarly enthusiastic, and the meeting blossomed into an enduring friendship between the two men. Hofmann is said to have remarked that Pollock needed to work more from nature, to which Pollock famously replied, "I don't paint nature, I am nature."

The WPA came to an end in 1943 and Pollock was forced to find work on his own. Along with various odd-jobs he became a custodian at the Museum of Non-Objective Painting (later the Guggenheim Museum), and it was there that he met Peggy Guggenheim, who invited him to submit work to her new gallery, Art of This Century. Eventually, Guggenheim put Pollock on a contract, and in 1943 she gave him his first solo exhibition, which was well received. The critic Clement Greenberg noted with approval that Pollock had absorbed and transcended Mexican mural painting, Picasso and Miró. The pictures still carried much figuration, although the references remained concealed - as Pollock said, "I choose to veil the imagery."

Jackson Pollock Biography

At the same time, Peggy Guggenheim also commissioned a painting for the entry hall of her New York apartment. The resulting work was Mural (1943), which would prove important in Pollock's transition from a style shaped by murals, Native American art and European modernism towards his mature drip technique. And it was Guggenheim who again helped Pollock when he needed a down-payment to secure an old farmhouse in the town of The Springs on Long Island. He and Krasner bought the farmhouse in the fall of 1945 and married in October. Krasner hoped that distance from the struggles and temptations of the city would offer a great opportunity for both of them to pursue their painting in seclusion and peace.

Exactly how Pollock came upon his drip technique has been a matter of long and inconclusive scholarly argument, but his work was already taking steps towards it in the mid-1940s. He began to lose the symbolic imagery of his earlier pictures and looked for more abstract means of expression. His experience of painting Mural for Guggenheim's apartment was also important in spurring him on, and in 1945 he painted There Were Seven in Eight, a picture in which recognizable imagery was thoroughly suppressed and the surface was knitted together by a vivid tangle of lines. In the following years his style became more boldly abstract still, and he produced works like Shimmering Substance (1946). The following year he finally hit on the idea of flinging and pouring paint, and thus found the means to create the light, airy and apparently endless webs of color that he was reaching towards. Masterpieces such as Full Fathom Five (1947) were the result. Pollock had carried out another stylistic somersault and arrived at a method that synthesized Impressionism, Surrealism and Cubism.

Shimmering Substance led on to works like Number 1A (1948), a larger canvas than Pollock was familiar with, and dense with a dazzling web of color. He found he was best able to approach works such as this by positioning the canvas flat on the floor, moving around it and applying the paint from all sides. By dipping a small stick, house brush or trowel into the paint and then rapidly moving his wrist, arm and body, he allowed it to drip and fall in weaving rhythms over the surface. The technique - the epitome of what critic Harold Rosenberg would call "action painting" - rarely permitted the brush to directly touch the canvas. "On the floor I am more at ease," he said. "I feel nearer, more a part of the painting, since this way I can walk around it, work from the four sides and literally be in the painting." Pollock's work thus became as much about process as they were about product. They became a record of the performance of painting - his play in and around the canvas, where he could enter them as a participant and hover above them as their creator. "There is no accident," Pollock once said, "just as there is no beginning or end.. Sometimes I lose a painting, but I have no fear of changes, of destroying the image, because a painting has a life of its own."

Jackson Pollock Drip Painting

Critics were quick to recognize the power of Pollock mature work. Greenberg, who would be his staunchest and most powerful supporter, wrote at the time, "[His] superiority to his contemporaries in this country lies in his ability to create genuinely violent and extravagant art without losing stylistic control." But when Pollock's pictures reached a wider public, through coverage in magazines such as Vogue and Life, the response was a mixture of shock and incredulity. Nor was he widely collected at first, having only a small circle of supporters. Commercial success would soon come, but even at its height - after Art of This Century Gallery had closed and gallery owner Betty Parsons had taken over Pollock's contract - the painter was still being treated for alcoholism.

Pollock supposedly stayed dry from mid-1948 to late 1950, and during these years he lived primarily in Long Island, only occasionally coming into the city. In 1950, he had a successful solo exhibition, and, along with Arshile Gorky and Willem de Kooning, was selected by MoMA director Alfred H. Barr, Jr., for the Venice Biennale. But a year later he was drinking again.

Late Period and Death

Jackson Pollock Photo Dancing and Painting

Pollock's radical abstraction seemed to herald an incredible new freedom for painting, yet semblances of recognizable imagery continued to hover in the background of his pictures. The vast expanse of Blue Poles (1952) is knitted together with the aid of diagonal lines. And One: Number 31 (1950) retains a strong sense of rhythmically dancing figures, amidst its remarkable diversity of effects. Pollock might have abandoned the realism of his youth, but he still managed to make his paintings eloquently metaphorical. Like many of his canvases from this time, One evokes a mood of grandeur which ties it to the tradition of sublime landscape which stretches back into the eighteenth century. It also glistens as if it were dappled with light in the manner of Monet's canvases, and many critics have speculated on whether Pollock was influenced by the French Impressionist.

Pollock never really lost his interest in figurative imagery - as he once put it, "I'm very representational some of the time, and a little all of the time. But when you're painting out of your unconscious, figures are bound to emerge." As early as the late 1940s, figuration showed signs of resurfacing in his work. By 1950, whilst his drinking increased, he returned to drawing, resurrecting some of his old motifs, and producing a series of mainly black and white poured paintings. Some, like Yellow Islands (1952), incorporate touches of color and are highly abstract; some, like Echo (Number 25, 1951), are calligraphic in style and only residually figurative; others bear clear images of heads. They were badly received when Pollock first exhibited them, but he continued to work on them right through 1953, his last productive year of work.

His personal troubles only increased in his later years. He left Betty Parsons Gallery, and, his reputation preceding him, he struggled to find another gallery. He painted little in 1954, claiming that he had nothing left to say. In the summer of 1956, Krasner took a trip to Europe to get some distance from Pollock, and soon after the painter began a relationship with 25 year old artist Ruth Kligman, who he had met at the Cedar Bar. Then, on the night of August 11, 1956, while Pollock was drunk and out driving with Kligman and her friend, Edith Metzger, he lost control of the car, killing himself and Metzger, and seriously injuring Kligman.

Jackson Pollock Image Smoking

JACKSON POLLOCK LEGACY

Pollock's immediate legacy was certainly felt most by other painters. His work brought together elements of Cubism, Surrealism, and Impressionism, and transcended them all. Beside that achievement even greats such as de Kooning, who remained closer to Cubism, and hung on to figurative imagery, seemed to fall short. And the best among subsequent generations of painters would all have to take on his achievement, just as Pollock himself had wrestled with Picasso.

And as early as 1958, when pioneering performance artist Allan Kaprow explicitly addressed the question of his legacy in an article for Art News, some were beginning to wonder if Pollock might even have opened up possibilities outside of the realm of painting. To borrow critic Harold Rosenberg's words, Pollock had re-imagined the canvas not as "a space in which to reproduce, re-design, analyze, or 'express' an object.. [but as] an arena in which to act." And it was a short step from this realization to interpreting Pollock's balletic moves around the canvas as a species of performance art. Since then, Pollock's reputation has only increased. The subject of many biographies, a movie biopic, and major retrospectives, he has become not only one of the most famous symbols of the alienated modern artist, but also an embodiment for critics and historians of American modernism in its finest hour.

Original content written by Ashley Remer
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JACKSON POLLOCK QUOTES

"The strangeness will wear off and I think we will discover the deeper meanings in modern art."

"My paintings do not have a center, but depend on the same amount of interest throughout."

"It doesn't make much difference how the paint is put on as long as something has been said. Technique is just a means of arriving at a statement."

"When I'm painting, I'm not aware of what I'm doing. It's only after a get acquainted period that I see what I've been about. I've no fears about making changes for the painting has a life of its own."

Jackson Pollock

Jackson Pollock Influences

Interactive chart with Jackson Pollock's main influencers, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.

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Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso
Picasso dominated European painting in the first half of the last century, and remains perhaps the century's most important, prolifically inventive, and versatile artist. Alongside Georges Braque, he pioneered Cubism. He also made significant contributions to Surrealist painting and media such as collage, welded sculpture, and ceramics.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Pablo Picasso
Paul Cézanne
Paul Cézanne
Paul Cézanne was an influential French Post-Impressionist painter whose depictions of the natural world, based on internal geometric planes, paved the way for Cubism and later modern art movements.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Paul Cézanne
Thomas Hart Benton
Thomas Hart Benton
Thomas Hart Benton was an American painter whose rural and industrial subjects, grand-scale murals, and figurative style were hallmarks of American Regionalism.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Thomas Hart Benton
Jose Clemente Orozco
Jose Clemente Orozco
Jose Clemente Orozco was a Mexican social realist painter who is best known for his large-scale murals of human toil, suffering, and the industrial age.

Modern Art Information Jose Clemente Orozco
Joan Miró
Joan Miró
Active in Paris from the 1920s onward, and influenced by Surrealism, Miró developed a style of biomorphic abstraction which blended abstract figurative motifs, large fields of color, and primitivist symbols. This style would be an important inspiration for many Abstract Expressionists.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Joan Miró
Clement Greenberg
Clement Greenberg
Clement Greenberg was one the leading American art critics during the twentieth century. Best known as the ideological counterpart to Harold Rosenberg, Greenberg was a formalist who coined the terms "American-type painting" and 'Post-painterly abstraction.' He was a staunch champion of pure abstraction, including the work of Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still and Hans Hofmann.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Clement Greenberg
Robert Motherwell
Robert Motherwell
Robert Motherwell was a first-generation Abstract Expressionist whose paintings use hulking shapes, large-scale strokes and calligraphy, and wide expanses of muted color. Eloquent and well-educated, he wrote extensively on theories of art.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Robert Motherwell
Mark Rothko
Mark Rothko
Mark Rothko was an Abstract Expressionist painter whose early interest in mythic landscapes gave way to mature works featuring large, hovering blocks of color on colored grounds.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Mark Rothko
Barnett Newman
Barnett Newman
Barnett Newman was an Abstract Expressonist painter in New York who painted large-scale fields of solid color, interrupted by vertical lines or "zips." His sometimes narrow or boxy canvases, part painting and part sculpture, were influential for Minimalism.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Barnett Newman
Willem De Kooning
Willem De Kooning
Willem de Kooning, a Dutch immigrant to New York, was one of the foremost Abstract Expressionist painters. His abstract compositions drew on Surrealist and figurative traditions, and typified the expressionistic 'gestural' style of the New York School.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Willem De Kooning
Native American Art
Native American Art
Native American art is a diverse category including the sculpture, masks, and ritual objects of the various peoples indigenous to the continent. In the twentieth century, many Western and especially American artists took up themes like totem poles and shamanistic rites inspired by such work.

Modern Art Information Native American Art
American Regionalism
American Regionalism
Regionalism emerged in 1930s America as an alternative to the abstract and avant-garde veins of modern art. Executed in a realist style, it often depicted scenes of everyday rural life, and frequently featured allegories about land, labor, and American history.

Modern Art Information American Regionalism
Cubism
Cubism
Cubism was developed by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque between 1907-1911, and it continued to be highly influential long after its decline. This classic phase has two stages: 'Analytic', in which forms seem to be 'analyzed' and fragmented; and 'Synthetic', in which pre-existing materials such as newspaper and wood veneer are collaged to the surface of the canvas.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Cubism
Surrealism
Surrealism
Perhaps the most influential avant-garde movement of the century, Surrealism was founded in Paris in 1924 by a small group of writers and artists who sought to channel the unconscious as a means to unlock the power of the imagination. Much influenced by Freud, they believed that the conscious mind repressed the power of the imagination. Influenced also by Marx, they hoped that the psyche had the power to reveal the contradictions in the everyday world and spur on revolution.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Surrealism
Lee Krasner
Lee Krasner
Lee Krasner was an American abstract painter and a prominent first-generation Abstract Expressionist. A student of Hans Hofmann's, and a pioneer in the all-over technique of painting that later influenced color-field artists such as Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, and her husband, Jackson Pollock.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Lee Krasner
Helen Frankenthaler
Helen Frankenthaler
Helen Frankenthaler was an American abstract painter in mid-twentieth-century New York. Along with Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland, Frankenthaler is considered a pioneer in the practice of color-field painting.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Helen Frankenthaler
Robert Morris
Robert Morris
Robert Morris is an American artist whose early L-beam and column sculptures were key works in Minimalism. His work also includes felt and fabric pieces, performance, body art, and earthworks, often with an emphasis on process and theatricality.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Robert Morris
Kenneth Noland
Kenneth Noland
Kenneth Noland was an American painter who helped pioneer the Color-field painting movement in the 1960s. His most famous works consist of circular ripples of paint poured directly onto the canvas.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Kenneth Noland
Franz Kline
Franz Kline
Franz Kline was an American abstract painter and one of the pioneers of Abstract Expressionism. His signature black-and-white abstractions were inspired by Japanese calligraphy, and inspired a later generation of artists who created Minimalism.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Franz Kline
Philip Guston
Philip Guston
Initially associated with the New York School of abstract art, Guston famously abandoned pure abstraction in the 1950s and turned to figurative art and quasi-abstract cartoon imagery. His later work, for which he is best known, was a major influence on the development of Neo-Expressionism in the U.S.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Philip Guston
Peggy Guggenheim
Peggy Guggenheim
Peggy Guggenheim, the neice of Solomon R. Guggenheim, was a collector and patron of the arts. She gave important exhibitions to many modern, Surrealist, and Abstract Expressionist artists at her Art of This Century gallery in New York in the 1940s.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Peggy Guggenheim
Ad Reinhardt
Ad Reinhardt
Ad Reinhardt was an American abstract artist whose monochromatic canvases show side-by-side rectangles painted in subtle variations of the same color. Very much part of the New York scene in the 1940s, he nonetheless scorned the label and gestural ethos of Abstract Expressionism.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Ad Reinhardt
Color Field Painting
Color Field Painting
A tendency within Abstract Expressionism, distinct from gestural abstraction, color field painting was developed by Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, and Clyfford Still in the late 1940s, and developed further by Helen Frankenthaler and others. It is characterized by large fields of color and an absence of any figurative motifs, and often expresses a yearning for transcendence and the infinite.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Color Field Painting
Minimalism
Minimalism
Minimalism emerged as a movement in New York in the 1960s, its leading figures creating objects which blurred the boundaries between painting and sculpture, and were characterized by unitary, geometric forms and industrial materials. Emphasizing cool anonymity over the passionate expression of the previous generation of painters, the Minimalists attempted to avoid metaphorical associations, symbolism, and suggestions of spiritual transcendence.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Minimalism
Abstract Expressionism
Abstract Expressionism
A tendency among New York painters of the late 1940s and '50s, all of whom were committed to an expressive art of profound emotion and universal themes. The movement embraced the gestural abstraction of Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, and the color field painting of Mark Rothko and others. It blended elements of Surrealism and abstract art in an effort to create a new style fitted to the postwar mood of anxiety and trauma.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Abstract Expressionism
John Graham
John Graham
John Graham was a Russian-born American painter and a key figure in the development of Abstract Expressionism. Never adopting a singular style in his own art, Graham tutored many young abstract artists on the tenets of Cubism and Surrealism, of which he was an expert. Willem de Kooning credited Graham as the person who discovered Jackson Pollock.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information John Graham
Hans Hofmann
Hans Hofmann
German-born American painter, art teacher and theorist. Hofmann matured as an artist in 1904-14 in Paris, where he met many of the greatest artists of that time. After he emigrated to America in the early 1930s, he enjoyed a prominent career as a teacher, powerfully influencing many Abstract Expressionists with his understanding of European modernism.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Hans Hofmann
Harold Rosenberg
Harold Rosenberg
Harold Rosenberg was a critic, art historian, and curator who published important works on modern art and culture. He was a leading exponent of Abstract Expressionism, and coined the term "Action Painting."
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Harold Rosenberg
Arshile Gorky
Arshile Gorky
Arshile Gorky was an Armenian-born American painter and a major influence on the development of Abstract Expressionism. In his own art he fused elements of Cubism, Surrealism and Expressionism, and was close with key figures central to New York's burgeoning abstrct art scene, such as John Graham, Stuart Davis and Willem de Kooning.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Arshile Gorky
Alfred H. Barr, Jr.
Alfred H. Barr, Jr.
Alfred H. Barr, Jr. was an American art historian, collector, and the first director of The Museum of Modern Art. Barr was very influential in MoMA's early years, arranging seminal exhibitions of works by Van Gogh, Léger, the Post-Impressionists and the Cubists.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Alfred H. Barr, Jr.
Claude Monet
Claude Monet
Claude Monet was a French artist who helped pioneer the painterly effects and emphasis on light, atmosphere, and plein air technique that became hallmarks of Impressionism. He is especially known for his series of haystacks and cathedrals at different times of day, and for his late Waterlilies.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Claude Monet
Allan Kaprow
Allan Kaprow
Allan Kaprow was an American painter, collagist, assemblagist and performance artist. Kaprow was best known for trailblazing the artistic concept "happenings," which were experiential artistic events rather than single works of art.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Allan Kaprow
Going West
Going West

Title: Going West (1934-35)

Artwork Description & Analysis: Going West exemplifies many aspects of Pollock's early interests. During the 1930s, he was strongly influenced by the American Regionalism of his mentor Thomas Hart Benton, yet Going West is characterized by a dark, almost mystical quality similar to another American visionary painter Pollock admired, Albert Pinkham Ryder. The swirling forms which structure the image evoke the emotional intensity of El Greco and Van Gogh. This image of a pioneer journeying West connects Pollock's emerging style to his own origins. While the scene evokes a sort of gothic mystery, it has been suggested that it comes from a family photo of a bridge in Cody, Wyoming, where Pollock was born.


Oil on gesso on composition board - National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C.

Guardians of the Secret
Guardians of the Secret

Title: Guardians of the Secret (1943)

Artwork Description & Analysis: Guardians of the Secret, often interpreted as a metaphor for the emergence of unconscious impulses into conscious thought, represents a synthesis of Pollock's sources. The imagery draws on African, Native American, as well as prehistoric art, yet there are also touches of Miró and Picasso. The abstract male and female 'guardians' have been interpreted in myriad ways: as Northwest Indian totems; Egyptian gods; even as conflations of playing cards and chess pieces wearing African masks. They flank the sides, while along the bottom is a dog reminiscent of Anubis, the jackal-god of the ancient Egyptian underworld. An African mask, a scarab-like embryo, and a rooster, all line up like relics across the top. The rooster is a symbol of fertility, but it may also recall the time Pollock lost the tip of his finger as a child when he put his hand in the way of an axe meant to kill a chicken. In the center of the composition is a tablet, covered in an hieroglyphic inscription reminiscent of ancient tombs. When the canvas is turned upside down, stick figures in various poses emerge.


Oil on canvas - San Francisco Museum of Art

Mural
Mural

Title: Mural (1943)

Artwork Description & Analysis: Mural is an early tour de force in Pollock's career, a transition between his easel paintings and his signature drip canvases. This 'all over' painting technique was assimilated from a variety of sources: Picasso, Benton and Siqueiros, as well as Native American sand painting. Measuring nearly 8 x 20 ft, this was Pollock's first large-scale work, and was commissioned for Peggy Guggenheim's apartment. Although influenced by his earlier work in this format, Pollock struggled to control the composition. He incorporated decorative patterns in thinly brushed paint to achieve an intimate pattern within the grand scale. An apocryphal story exists that it was painted in one day and one night, though this is impossible given the quantity of layers in the picture. Gifted by Guggenheim to the University of Iowa Museum of Art in 1951, it was recently rescued from floodwaters in Des Moines.


Oil on canvas - University of Iowa Museum of Art, Des Moines

Full Fathom Five
Full Fathom Five

Title: Full Fathom Five (1947)

Artwork Description & Analysis: Full Fathom Five was among the first drip paintings Pollock completed. Its surface is clotted with an assortment of detritus, from cigarette butts to coins and a key. While the top-most layers were created by pouring lines of black and shiny silver house paint, a large part of the paint's crust was applied by brush and palette knife, creating an angular counterpoint to the weaving lines. "Like a seismograph," noted writer Werner Haftmann "the painting recorded the energies and states of the man who drew it." Since their first exhibition, critics have come to recognize that drip paintings such as this might also be read as major developments in the history of modern painting. With them, Pollock found a new abstract language for the unconscious, one which moved beyond the Freudian symbolism of the Surrealists. He broke up the rigid, shallow space of Cubist pictures, replacing it instead with a dense web of space, like an unfathomable galaxy of stars. He even updated Impressionism, creating pictures that seem to glitter with the effects of light, and yet which also suggest the pitch dark and anxious interior of the human mind.


Oil on canvas, with nails, buttons, tacks, key, coins, cigarettes, matches, etc. - Museum of Modern Art, New York

Autumn Rhythm: Number 30
Autumn Rhythm: Number 30

Title: Autumn Rhythm: Number 30 (1950)

Artwork Description & Analysis: While only one painting from Pollock's 1950 solo exhibition was actually sold, the show gained much attention. It was described by Art News as one of the three best exhibitions of the year, and Cecil Beaton staged a famous fashion shoot in the exhibition space, which subsequently appeared in Vogue. Autumn Rhythm was one of the major works which appeared in that show. As with many of Pollock's paintings, he began it with a linear framework of diluted black paint which in many areas soaked through the unprimed canvas. Over this he applied more skeins of paint in various colors - lines thick and thin, light and dark, straight and curved, horizontal and vertical. As the title suggests, the coloring, horizontal orientation, and sense of ground and space in Autumn Rhythm are strongly evocative of nature. The balance between control and chance that Pollock maintained throughout his working process produced compositions that can have as much calm tranquillity as some works by Rothko.


Oil on canvas - Metropolitan Museum of Art

Blue Poles
Blue Poles

Title: Blue Poles (1952)

Artwork Description & Analysis: Blue Poles, or Number 11, 1952, contains shoe and footprints and even shards of glass embedded in canvas - telling traces of Pollock's vigorous working methods and turbulent life. During the period he painted Blue Poles he was drinking in binges, though Krasner has stated that the painting took a great deal of time and was not the spontaneous result of a drunken fury. It is possible that he employed the blue lines to unite disparate parts of the large picture. Frank O'Hara commented, "The poles are an unusually definite form in the 'all-over' configuration of Pollock's poured paintings and various figurative connotations have been attributed to them - from totems to the swaying masts of tall ships."


Enamel and aluminum paint with glass on canvas - Australia National Gallery, Canberra

Yellow Islands
Yellow Islands

Title: Yellow Islands (1952)

Artwork Description & Analysis: Yellow Islands was produced in one of Pollock's last productive years of painting. Made during a period when he was concentrating on black and white pictures, Yellow Islands likely began as a purely black canvas. Swift and aggressive gestures are interspersed with a large amount of black paint that was clearly poured onto the canvas while it was in a vertical position. After allowing a certain amount of stain, Pollock added areas of yellow and crimson with a brush on top of the black. He then lifted the canvas upright while the paint was still wet, allowing it to run.


Oil on canvas - Tate Modern, London

The Deep
The Deep

Title: The Deep (1953)

Artwork Description & Analysis: The 1950s saw considerable changes in both Pollock's work and personal life. He began avoiding color in 1951, and started painting exclusively in black, though with alcoholism taking over his life, his productivity steadily declined. The Deep evokes a chasm - an abyss either to be avoided or to get lost inside. White paint was built up with layered brush strokes, showing a return of Pollock's direct involvement with the canvas. Drips are still evident, now creating a web that floats above the chasm. Pollock was clearly looking for a new approach, an image to create, desperate to break away from his signature style, yet his last paintings represent neither a new beginning nor a conclusion.


Oil and enamel on canvas - Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris

Bibliography
The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing this page. These also suggests some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.