Revolutionary, anarchic, irascible and brave, Jackson Pollock is with no doubt the most influential native American artist in the history of pictorial art. Born on January 28th 1912 in Wyoming, he lived a short life (he died in a car accident at the age of 44) but free from constraints and conventions.
His abstract and furious work was the answer to the Soviet attempt to condition European art for a return to realism. Able to reach successfully the understanding of his contemporaries, he immediately had a response in the market, enough to appear on Life‘s cover and to be presented at the 1948 Venice Biennale as the most influential artist of the moment.
His approach to painting took place in the early 1930s, when he approached the realistic Mexican socialism of Diego Rivera and Josè Clemente Orozco. After 1936’s exhibition on European Surrealism in New York, and above all after the discovery of Picasso, he will drift away from from tradition and start building his true style. Dripping is the pictorial technique used, making the color fall from the brush, or directly from the jar, on the canvas placed horizontally on the ground, while the artist is free to move around: action painting. Thus a tangle of unintelligible signs and spots comes up, coming from the unconscious (Pollock was attracted by Jungian analysis) and from primitive inspirations (probably coming from Navajo sandpainting).
Somebody tried to “enclose” his art in the definition of Abstract Expressionism, an American art movement born after World War II, in which the violent impulse of his mood is transferred to the canvas, a space to express freedom of thought and action of the individual. In 1950 he was the leader of the Irascibles, a group of 18 artists named for the resounding protest made at the Metropolitan Museum in New York: the museum had organized an exhibition dedicated to contemporary American art, but they excluded the most representative artists of Abstract Expressionism. This provoked the reaction of the artists, who sent a letter of dissent to New York Times, directed to the museum and to its President, Ronald L. Redmond. Famous is the photo of Nina Leen, published in ’51 on Life, which portrays the Irascibles dressed as bankers.
The figure of Pollock today has a mythical aura fueled by his free and dramatic biography. But the best way to discover (and rediscover) him is going through his paintings. These are the most significant painting that can help you understand his technique.
Realized in 1950, Number 27 is made of oil on a canvas measuring 124 x 269 cm, exposed at the Whitney Museum of American Art. It’s the maximum expression of action painting in which the fusion of colors leaves little room for the white background of the canvas. Like all Pollock’s paintings, the theme is indecipherable, or hidden in the unconscious. Pollock, as he said, begins his work with an image that will then be covered by the fury of the colors.
Work realized in 1953, also this of considerable size (2×5 meters). Chaotic labyrinth on a metallic gray-black background, in which red and yellow shades intertwine. Eight black segments emerge from the picture and they are the ones that give the title to the painting. Even though it’s mentioned in the title, blue color (symbol of peace and serenity) is completely absent. The twisted black poles can be interpreted as an allegory of human efforts to emerge from the chaos of life.
One: Number 31
Made on 1950, 2.7 x 5.31 meters, it’s exposed at New York’s MOMA. It’s the improvisation of jazz, there is a casting of black that unites all the notes and the hands of the artist are like those of a pianist, with his virtuosity between the black and white keys.
Lavender Mist Number 1
Made on 1950, 221 × 175 cm, preserved in Washington’s National Gallery. The title was added later, recommended by the critic Clement Greenberg, who noted a prevalence of lavender shades. A summary of olfactory and atmospheric suggestions cover the entire canvas, to ensure that the work has no space or time limit but turns to infinity.
Pre-dripping work created in 1943, in which a pictorial subject can be found: the mythological she-wolf that gave birth to Rome, with the two brothers Romulus and Remus. As he said ” “She-wolf came into existence because I had to paint it.”