Jackson Pollock

by Adrian Blakey in The Great Artists Series

Jackson Pollock (1912-1956)  revolutionized American modern art in the mid 20th century. He developed an entirely original form of expression in which he literally, dripped, threw and even flung ordinary house paint onto large scale canvases laid flat on his studio floor.

An accomplished and exhibited artist prior to drip painting, he realized that an expression of emotions could be rendered in a very controlled way, whilst permitting a high degree of randomness in the detail. That is the root of his enduring fame as a great artist.

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If you are not familiar with Pollock, this video will introduce to a broad selection of some of his most interesting works:

Further  background material can be found here and here.

As with the other articles in this series, my intention is to explore and interpret the works and style of great artists, and to delve into how they have inspired and influenced my own work. In this case, I’m going to further restrict myself to considering Pollock’s drip paintings, as it’s these that I am primarily interested in and inspired by.

Let’s start with “Blue Poles” (also known as “Number 11”painted in 1952:

At 2.1 m high X 4.8 m long, the first thing that strikes you about this work is its sheer scale. Standing in front of it, the viewer is drawn into its interconnecting systems of seemingly repetitive elements. It’s this combination of scale and structure that make this work so engrossing.

It’s impossible to do justice to this work on a webpage, so here is a closeup of a small section:

At this scale, you can start to see the rhythmic balance of shapes and colors, and how Pollock has managed to create an entire ecosystem of interacting elements. This extract could have been a very satisfying work in its own right. But considered in the context of the whole, I am struck by how complete and sophisticated a conception this is.

Pollock’s technique of applying the paint, namely flinging, dripping and pouring, tends to randomize the particulars of the marks made.

Yet there is no mistaking that this is a very deliberately controlled composition. Let’s zoom in a little further. Here are some closeups of an even smaller scale of other sections of the work so that you can experience the marks in more detail:

With their strong contrasting colors and bold sense of design and positioning, any of these extracts would readily be accepted as fully fledged complete works in isolation.  In a sense, Pollock has mass produced a series of mutually supportive elements that extend the complexity of the overall composition.

You can find a lot more background on Pollock generally, and on “Blue Poles” in particular in the following video. It also contains an interview with a Pollock talking about his understanding of modern art and his approach to making it. We also see him doing action painting, as this style of work is also known:

Pollock’s drip paintings are all very different from one another. Here is “Number 5”:

And here is “Lavender Mist”:

As an artist, I’m fascinated by the concept of how randomization can lead to controlled complexity, and how elements can be combined into a comprehensive and mutually supportive ecosystem.  In “On Yellow“, I flicked paint onto the canvas to create some of the marks. I often do this. You can also see this in “Bubble Karma”, where I appear in a video showing how it was painted:

Dripping and flicking paint is not the central requirement though. In “Mare Tranquillitatis”, I used a thin brush to trace lines and marks in an unplanned and intuitive way – a kind of  randomness albeit it completely different from Pollock’s manner of realisation.

In other works, the background contains elements of randomness. See “Renewal” and “The Boab Prison Tree” as examples. In works like “Intimacy”, “Unstill Life” and “Black Clouds”, there is a deliberate degree of randomness in the foreground marks.

But back to Pollock. His genius was in finding an entirely original form of expression that led him to create not one but several masterpieces. I find his large scale works awe inspiring.  I think he remains one of the great artists of all time.

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