Jackson Pollock

Eyridiki Sellou | Apr 18, 2023

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Jackson Pollock, born January 28, 1912 in Cody, Wyoming, and died August 11, 1956 in Springs, New York, was an American painter of abstract expressionism, known worldwide during his lifetime.

Jackson Pollock produced more than 700 works, including completed paintings, painted or sculpted essays and drawings, as well as some prints.

He has had a determining influence on the course of contemporary art.

The practice of all-over as well as "dripping", which he used a lot from 1947 to 1950, made him famous thanks to Hans Namuth's photos and films, made more or less in the heat of the action.

His late recognition after a lifetime of destitution coincided with the emergence of New York as the new cultural capital of the world, shortly after World War II between 1948 and 1950. Pollock was the first of the third wave of American abstract artists to be recognized at last, the first to "break the ice" (as Willem de Kooning put it), opening a passage into the collecting world for other artists of the New York School.

In 1945, Pollock married the painter Lee Krasner who had a decisive influence on his career and on the development of his work.


Jackson Pollock was born in the American West. He identifies with these territories populated by Indians, with their spaces and their untamed, wild character, which will be the basis of his first works. His four brothers, older than him, always took care of him with varying degrees of success. The family moved eight times between 1912 and 1928, notably to California and Arizona. His mother, Stella, was overprotective of her youngest child, although she would have preferred to have a daughter at last... Stella's initiatives did not coincide with her husband's means and know-how. After years of hard work in his various agricultural enterprises, he was forced to find work on construction sites far from the family home. He became an alcoholic, and so did his five boys. Jackson remained shy, speaking very little in public; he was uncomfortable, even brutal, with women.

In 1924, Jackson, then eleven years old, "had occasional encounters with Indian groups. At that age, he had no idea of their art...; however, he did witness a ritual from a distance. Two of his brothers, Charles and Sand, soon showed some talent for observational drawing and, over the next few years, provided him with information and reviews of modern Parisian art. Jackson undertook to follow them, but was dismayed by the results.

In the summer of 1927, Jackson showed the first signs of alcoholism. During that year he attended Riverside High School (he left in 1928 without completing high school). In September, he enrolled in the School of Manual Arts, but was expelled for criticizing the teaching in a student newspaper. He shares extreme left-wing convictions and hears about a left-wing art - muralist. This does not prevent him from rubbing shoulders with Krishnamurti's theosophy.

In June 1930, he was taken by one of his elders, Charles, to Pomona College in California to see frescoes painted by Orozco. In September, he moved with his brothers Frank and Charles to New York. He enrolled in the Art Students League of New York to attend classes given by the realist painter Thomas Hart Benton. He met José Clemente Orozco, whose mural work he had discovered shortly before, and who was working with Benton on frescoes. During the next two years, he re-enrolled in Benton's mural painting class and later in live model and mural composition. In this class, the emphasis was on the expression of volume in cross-hatched line drawing, as in Michelangelo's nude drawings. In addition, Benton proposed solutions for pictorial composition in the form of graphics that Pollock would retain and return to throughout his life.

His father died in 1933 of a heart attack. During the spring and summer, Jackson continued to train as a sculptor and worked with the stonecutter Ahron Ben Shmuel.

In the years of economic crisis, with Roosevelt's New Deal policy, the WPA's Federal Art Project supported artists in both creation and teaching. Mural composition was one way of integrating the artist into society and the WPA commissioned them to decorate public buildings. From 1935 on, Pollock benefited from this support for artists. Initially admitted to the "mural" section, Pollock was expelled for absenteeism in 1938. He was reinstated in the "easel painting" section and benefited from this until 1942. The reflection on the format will thus be at the heart of his research.

In 1940, Pollock passed through the studio of David Alfaro Siqueiros, where banners and float sculptures were collectively created for the May Day demonstration. It was in this context that he discovered the airbrush, the stencil and the taste for researching materials (especially with industrial paints) and new techniques.


In February 1937, after reading Primitive Art and Picasso, Pollock met the author of the article: John Graham (real name Dombrowski, a real guru in the New York milieu). The latter, hired by the director of the Guggenheim collection, told Jackson about his favorite work, a painting by Picasso, dating from 1932, Young Girl in Front of a Mirror, very graphic and as if fragmented into facets. This painting was donated by Mrs. Simon Guggenheim to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) when the museum (directed by Alfred Barr since its founding in 1929) moved, greatly enriched, to its present location in 1939.

The years 1938-1946 gave Pollock the opportunity to rub shoulders with his "master" of the time: Pablo Picasso. Numerous similarities between the two artists have been identified, as well as with Miro, Masson and Hans Hofmann by Ellen G. Landau. The exhibition of Guernica, from May 1939, at the Valentine Gallery, then, in the autumn, the Picasso retrospective (with Les Demoiselles d'Avignon and the famous Young Girl in front of a mirror), at MoMA, were the high points of this moment of emulation where Pollock drew a lot. He accumulated figures drawn with an expressive line (Studies, Number 11). They evoke protean entities, Picasso's Minotaurs (the Minotaure magazine with Picasso's cover dates from 1933), surrealist hybrid figures (the fashion is Sigmund Freud's Interpretation of Dreams), and where references to West Coast Indian sculptures are mixed in. All this bestiary is found, often threadlike, in the drawings and paintings dated approximately from 1938-1943. On the other hand, during the 1940s (but probably in the early years, according to David Anfam), Pollock was very interested in the book On growth and form by D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson (1860-1948) for its illustrations of natural forms, often observed under the microscope, but also ram's horns, etc., which Pollock appropriated through drawing by making unrecognizable forms.

In December 1937, Pollock underwent detoxification and began therapy, the first of many, with Joseph Henderson, a psychoanalyst trained directly with Carl Gustav Jung.

In 1937, Pollock was still passionate about primitive art which, according to Graham, was based on "spiritual emotions". This was very important to the artist in his more than ever expressionist practice. The contemplation of the art of the North American Indians, in particular during the exhibition "Indian Art of the United States", (curator Rene d'Harnoncourt), at MoMA in 1941, was decisive for his evolution. He would later refer to the Kwakwaka'wakw sculptures, one of whose gigantic "totems" adorned the museum's entrance on that occasion. The work of interpretation of his own drawings, undertaken with his Jungian analyst, Henderson, also finds an echo in their discussions where they evoke the Indian sculptures that fascinate Henderson as much as Pollock.

During the exhibition, demonstrations of sand painting (and also with pollen, petals or flour) are performed by Navajo artists. The paintings executed on the ground are surrounded by a frame or "guardian". In shamanic practice, the community member being healed is then placed in the center of this painting. The painting is then destroyed: it is used to rub the sick person and is then thrown away from the village. Hubert Damisch, in the 1982 catalog, refers to this, but not explicitly, to interpret Pollock's approach. According to this conception, it is the action of making the painting and not the object of painting that is essential. The expression "action painting" takes this reference into account, but its impact was considerably amplified after the broadcasting of Hans Namuth's film, particularly in art schools in the United States, in the 1950s.

Birth, 1942: fragments of deformed and stylized figures reassembled vertically like a totem pole make up the first painting by Pollock to be seen in a group exhibition, "American and French Painting", in January 1942, organized by J. Graham (with also paintings by Lee Krasner). The entanglement of fragmented figures was the first step towards what would later become the accumulation of figures by superposition, in the form of superimposed "veils", and their total disappearance in the drippings. This thesis is taken up by Donald Wigal in Jackson Pollock: The Concealed Image. An obvious example of concealment was noted by Karmel: the "painting" inscribed in the center of Guardians of the Secret (1943). Turned upside down, it features numerous wiry figures like some of Picasso's drawings from the late 1930s. In the normal position, the monumental guardians are fairly identifiable, but the painting in the center has become "abstracted." At this exhibition, Lee Krasner (re)discovered Pollock, the man and the artist, and fell in love with both. A few months later, they lived together at Lee's house, each keeping their studio. It was from this date that Lee encouraged meetings between Pollock and Clement Greenberg, as well as with their teacher, Hans Hofmann. Willem De Kooning was also in the picture.

In the spring of 1943, Pollock took part in an exhibition that was to be important for his future, with an important work, Stenographic Figure. He was selected along with 35 young artists, almost all American, for the Art of This Century gallery, the "museum gallery" opened by Peggy Guggenheim in October 1942. Among the members of the jury were James Johnson Sweeney (who would soon become director of the painting and sculpture section at MoMA), and Piet Mondrian (who is said to have said, in front of Stenographic Figure: "I'm trying to understand what's going on... I think it's the most interesting thing I've seen so far in America.") Marcel Duchamp, in this jury of seven members, also gives a favorable opinion! Pollock, with Lee's help, then obtained a contract from Peggy Guggenheim for $150 a month and his first private exhibition, which ran from November 9 to 27.

In 1943, paintings that would become key works show Pollock's creative bubbling: Guardians of the Secret, The She-Wolf and Stenographic Figure... In fact, a whole figuration of intimate images that Pollock was most anxious to repress by blurring their legibility, even if it meant turning the painting over 180° in the process. He no longer feels controlled by either myths or archetypes. Moreover, the title of the work only comes later, with friends or visitors.

In November 1943, success was on the horizon but it was still far away. There were only a few sales (it was the middle of the war), the reviews were rather negative, but the American character was appreciated, a new fact, while European art still dominated the market. Peggy also commissioned Mural ("All the animals of the American West", said Pollock), for her house (January 1944). Mural was presented to the public for the first time at MoMA in April-May 1947, in the exhibition "Large Scale Modern Painting". In May 1944, Pollock's first painting was purchased by MoMA: She Wolf.


The painter Lee Krasner, trained at Hans Hofmann in modern art, is his companion since 1942 but they marry only in October 1945. She then took him to Long Island to protect him from his alcoholism. They moved into an old farmhouse in Springs (East Hampton, New York) at the beginning of November, without hot water or heating and with very little money. It was in the very small "barn", summarily converted into a "studio", that Jackson Pollock produced his "classic" works, the canvas being first laid on the ground and then, after a period of drying, straightened. The critic Clement Greenberg (a friend of Lee Krasner's who "theorized" the teachings of Hans Hofmann, passed on by Lee) emphasized the fact that Pollock did not start with the rectangle of the canvas. In fact it was a whole roll of canvas that was partially unrolled. Since the paint did not go all the way to the edges, he had to decide on the limits, and framing was a crucial choice for Pollock. This practice was totally new and at odds with French painting, inherited from Cézanne, where one starts from the frame to construct the painting. To qualify this new practice, Greenberg coined the term all over (where the pictorial elements are arranged equally over the entire available surface) (The Nation, 1 February 1947: an over-all evenness).

The paintings of Janet Sobel (1894 - 1968), an American artist of Ukrainian origin, who was the first to practice all-over painting, influenced Pollock. Pollock had seen her work with Greenberg at The Art of This Century (en) Gallery in 1944. In his essay American-Type' Painting (1955) Greenberg refers to these works as the first forms of all-over painting he had seen, and states that "Pollock admitted that these paintings impressed him.

In some of his paintings, as early as 1947, Pollock poured paint directly from the pot, controlling the fluidity and thickness of the lines (pouring) or dripping the paint onto canvases laid flat (or on paper: Painting (Silver over Black, White, Yellow and Red), 1948, painting on paper mounted on canvas, 61 × 80 cm, Centre Pompidou, 1982 :

This operation, which consists in working horizontally, operates a singular rupture in the cultural practices of the image. Its symbolic implications and the effects of echoes in the contemporary art which followed were approached by Yve Alain-Bois and Rosalind Krauss on the occasion of the exhibition " L'Informe. Mode d'emploi". The text alludes to "Full Fathom Five", from 1947, in the context of a theoretical analysis. But the meaning of this title, which comes from Ariel's song in Shakespeare's The Tempest ("By five fathoms under the water... lies my father

In 1948, Jackson Pollock decided to stop giving titles and to designate his works by numbers. When asked about this decision, Lee Krasner stated that Pollock's primary desire was to interest the public in "pure painting" rather than distract them with titles. Pollock, in August 1950, explained: "I have decided to stop adding to the confusion" caused by the titles that were very often given by guests and which Pollock accepted or refused. The first exhibition with numbered paintings was in 1951 at Betty Parsons. But the numbers were assigned somewhat randomly, without regard to chronology. In some cases, Pollock also designated them by colors or their essential characteristics (The Wooden Horse, White Cockatoo).

In 1948, Robert Motherwell, William Baziotes, David Hare, Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still founded their short-lived art school The Subjects of the Artist. According to them, a student has everything to gain from knowing "the subjects of modern artists as well as their workmanship". They thus distinguished themselves from a formal approach to modern art. They were anti-Greenbergian and reintroduced meaning, where others saw only balance of forms and play of colors, flatness, etc. But Pollock himself did not understand very clearly the theoretical (but not yet formalist) and often obscure discourses of Clement Greenberg. He preferred to listen to jazz all day: Dizzy Gillespie, Bird (Charlie Parker), Dixieland and bebop.

Pollock was the first American painter of abstract expressionism to become known to the general public because of the response he received from the press. In this sense, he paved the way for the other artists of the New York School. But these artists would not enjoy popular success until after his death.

Jackson Pollock was at the height of his success in 1950. He was selected with a group of American artists to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale. He accumulated major works with drippings and pourings without ever repeating himself. The figuration that still appears in 1948 paintings made by the controlled spilling of a thread of lacquer, still appears in 1949 in the figures scraped with a painting knife in several canvases freshly painted in drippings, including Out of the web: Number 7.1949. Some of the 1950 paintings have also been analyzed by Karmel and they show quite clearly fragments of figures when tilted 90 degrees clockwise. However, the whole is totally "abstract", and it is this radical abstraction that has been mostly retained as "the" style of Jackson Pollock. Also noteworthy is an experiment in volume: Untitled, Painted terra cotta, 20.3 cm (8 inches).

He drank less since moving to Springs, and almost no more after the fall of 1948, thanks to tranquilizers, hypnosis (memory retrieval), walks, a large number of cultured guests and, with the economic boom, the first serious sales. Large-scale canvases (but also many in a more "saleable" format, e.g. 78 × 57 cm) and a complex "all over" rhythm surprised a growing number of critics. The intensity of the work and the constraints of success accumulated in 1949 and 1950. He reflected with the sculptor-architect Tony Smith and the architect Peter Blake on the articulation of his monumental, mural paintings with the architectural space).

In the late summer and fall of 1950, photographer Hans Namuth took a series of photographs of the artist in action. In black and white, the low natural light fixes the "movement" of the action. The idea that the artist's action is essential had been in the air for a long time. This reference to the place of artistic action is often found as if it were an arena in the 1930s, in the double sense of the word: the sand-covered surface (bullfighting, the cult of Mithras) and the place where one risks one's honor, even one's life, by exposing oneself. The artistic practice of the 1930s, both literary and pictorial, was often committed to exposing, in a transgressive way, the author's intimacy and fantasies. In the 1930s, too, this was the case in France with the writings of Leiris (L'Âge d'homme) and Georges Bataille, and with the paintings of Picasso and Masson. These works were known in the United States. This conception of artistic practice, where the essential lies in risky action, the exposure of oneself in the arena, was taken up in this country by the critic Harold Rosenberg (The Tradition of the New, 1955) when he coined the expression "action painting" (first published in the 1952 article "The American Action Painters").

The logical follow-up to the photographs of the artist in action was for Hans Namuth to make a color film (with a solo on double bass by Morton Feldman). In fact, there were two films made in October and November 1950. Pollock played himself in the process of making two paintings, one on canvas, shot from a distance, and the other on glass, the glass being necessary so that the viewer could see the painter in action and the painting in the same still shot. Barbara Rose noticed that with this device the viewer cannot see anything of what the artist sees. When the film was finished, Pollock went back to drinking, and returned the glass painting, outside the studio, for months.


Pollock then wished to flourish within his own personal language, with drippings and pre-drippings, "I think non-objectivists will find it disturbing," in his own words, in early 1951; he reintroduced, in a very visible way, those figures that had previously been "veiled" in the webs of patterns traced in the air above the canvas. He remained very close to Alfonso Ossorio and Tony Smith (1912-1980) and followed their advice to renew himself. On Japanese paper given to him by Smith, he drew with ink, playing with the transfer of ink from one sheet to another, placed underneath, and referring to D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson's 1917 book, Growth and Form, which presents the drawing of many simple shapes.

In 1951, Pollock began drawing on canvas with syringes, so the strokes are very long, equivalent to a pencil line. Greenberg remained very enthusiastic about the black figure paintings in the 1952 exhibition, praising their maximum charge with minimal means, their dematerialized powdering, in contrast to the search for materiality that he perceived in 1949 (Read Greenberg's critical analyses by Y. A. Bois and T. de Duve). After that, Pollock went back to experimenting with the effects of thick or fluid layers of paint, smears, and played with the fusion of materials: this is what we see in The Deep (1953).

After a year in 1951 when black dominated, he reintroduced color with a brush starting with Portrait and a Dream in 1953 (by this time, Greenberg had "let go" of Pollock). The titles continue to refer to rituals, to his symbolic acts, and totemic figures punctuate the surface: Easter and the Totem, Blue Poles; titles requested by his new gallery owner, Sidney Janis. His last painting Search is typical of this spirit of research, where color is dominant. Pollock did not produce much (but with constantly new practices) during the last years of his life.

He was killed in a car accident on August 11, 1956 in the small town of Springs, located on Long Island, New York. He was drunk and driving very fast. In the car, his companion Ruth Kligman survived the accident while Edith Metzger, a friend of Ruth, was killed.

Much has been written about his alcoholism, which was responsible for this accident; it was primarily a social fact. Almost all the artists of his generation were alcoholics, many committed suicide, many drove dangerously: being considered as wimps by the average American, they added to it, at the risk of losing their lives. As for Pollock, the family origins of his malaise had made him an alcoholic by the age of fifteen.

The in-depth study of Pollock's work has, in recent years, revealed the permanence of a desire to make an image, to work on the expression of his inner world through these images and to show that their apparent erasure in an "abstract" painting was deceptive.

In June 1956, Selden Rodman met with Pollock in East Hampton:

Pollock, Krasner and Greenberg: the artistic and critical context

The "vigorous flamboyance of his work", the singular, "unprecedented" character of his painting in 1943, his "implacable spontaneity", "the unique way in which he brings together innumerable memories, enthusiasms and intimate fixations and melts them together", these are the first reasons for his success. That said, Jackson Pollock lived in extreme precariousness for most of his life, even though, in 1949, Life magazine headlined "Is Pollock the Greatest Living Painter?" on its "front page" with a certain irony. The year 1949 was the only one in which the couple had enough sales to pay off their debts and restore their Springs home.

Pollock's aggressive behavior when he was drunk had an immediate negative effect on his image: his former friends shunned him, gallery owners were suspicious of him, and his potential clients (although it would have been difficult to convince them of the value of his painting) were reluctant to take the risk of a reception that would have been spoiled by his presence alone. On the other hand, in the long run, his behavior and his painting, his expressiveness, the apparent speed of his execution, played a role in building the mythical image of the typically American artist, free and a bit "wild", but so full of energy!

It is only after Pollock's death that the work undertaken by Lee Krasner to valorize his painting begins to bear fruit. The myth of the artist with a tragic destiny who knew how to match the American space, its speed and energy, this myth makes the demand grow. Sold by private treaty in November 2006 for $140 million, Painting No. 5, painted in 1948, is among the most expensive works of all time.

Clement Greenberg was able to handle with discernment precise qualifiers to which his readers had, often with extreme difficulty, to adapt. His approach to Pollock's work is nuanced, and his enthusiasm gradually manifests itself between 1943 and 1947. He emphasizes formal and expressive qualities and makes comparisons with the greatest names. In Après l'expressionnisme abstrait, from 1962, he returns to this period with an exemplary concern for clarification:

And then he specifies by opposing it to "the suffocating hold of synthetic cubism" (with its circled surfaces):

He concludes this description with the articulation of Pollock's work to Baroque art as defined by Wölfflin. A double valorizing rapprochement.

Pollock's gestural expressionism could indeed be compared, under this formal angle, with baroque art.

The battle of the critics: the controversial novelty

The art critics, because of the eulogistic chronicles of the powerful Clement Greenberg, are interested in the "Pollock case", especially from 1945. The proponents and detractors of the artist attacked each other through articles, which contributed to making him progressively famous. Thus Eleanor Jewett wrote:

Howard Devree expresses in contrast how Pollock's large canvases impress him, "as if overloaded with a violent emotional response to establish a real communication with the viewer."

Parker Tyler, the same year, recognizing that Pollock has a strength of material and some talent as a colorist, nevertheless denounces his lack of talent and an "air of baked-macaroni about some of his patterns." This criticism leads to the praise of Manny Farber who defines the artist's painting as "masterful and miraculous"; about the "mural" commissioned by Peggy Guggenheim, she enthuses:

Although Clement Greenberg continued to defend Jackson Pollock year after year, he was less criticized in the following years. It was only in 1948, on the occasion of his new exhibition at the Betty Parsons Gallery, that he found his way back into the media: Alonzo Lansford spoke of his pictorial technique as a kind of automatism of painting, acknowledging that the result was "lively, original and exciting". Robert M. Coates remarks that Pollock is the most complex of the New York artists, speaking of "an impression of dizzying energy":

In 1949, reviews in Time and New York World-Telegram severely attacked Pollock's work. Clement Greenberg was not the only one to react. Paul Mocsanyi spoke of a "combination of the ecstatic and the monumental is not without a certain grandeur." Elaine de Kooning, wife of painter Willem de Kooning, also writes:

In a letter to gallery owner Betty Parson, French painter Georges Mathieu writes:

From the end of 1949 onwards, the criticisms did not cease to multiply, leading to a sustained war of chronicles. Carlyle Burrows denounced the increasingly obvious repetitions while Stuart Preston praised the strong colors of the new paintings. More and more art critics joined the camp of the admirers: Amy Robinson in Art News, Robert M. Coates in New Yorker, Henry McBride in New York Sun. Time was the only newspaper to continue its negative criticism, rejecting Pollock's and De Kooning's works back to back: "If these kinds of paintings represent the greatest vital force in contemporary American art, as some critics have argued, art is in a bad way."

With the exhibition at the American Pavilion during the 25th Venice Biennale, between June 3 and October 15, 1950, Pollock's work took on an international and still controversial scope. Alfred H. Barr Jr. in Art News set the tone, calling it "an energetic adventure for the eyes," an expression that was immediately taken up by other critics, such as Douglas Cooper. The Italian art critic Bruno Alfieri describes Pollock's painting as an "absence of representation", as "chaos", as a "lack of harmony", of "structural organization", as an "absence of technique": "Pollock broke all barriers between his painting and himself: his image is the most immediate and spontaneous painting. who for a few decades disturbed the sleep of his colleagues with the eternal nightmare of his destructive undertakings, becomes a peaceful conformist, a painter of the past."

After his death, international criticism multiplied; it was precisely these posthumous reviews, in 1958, that contributed most to making Jackson Pollock's work known to the general public. Darrio Micacchi was very harsh in the organ of the Communist Party:

While Freek van den Berg ironically dwells on a comparison between the painter Pollock and the dauber child, Will Grohmann writes:

John Russel writes that Pollock's work "is even more powerful than the things that have ever been said about him." John Berger refers to the paintings of the "highly talented" Pollock as "the inner walls of his mind."

The cultural context. Hans Namuth

The pictures taken by Hans Namuth in 1950 of the "action painter" circulated in the press, which was beginning to live off the "celebrities" of the art world. These images shaped in the public mind the cliché of the "liberated" artist, whose arm reacts like a seismograph connected to his "unconscious". Previously, artists were never depicted at work - Clouzot's film, Le Mystère Picasso, conceived in 1952, was made in 1955.

Other images, carefully composed by Namuth, made Pollock a popular success in the United States: they are portraits of, as Willem de Kooning put it, "the guy who works in a gas station", arms crossed, with a slightly provocative air, attractive but rough around the edges, who paints in a barn, not in a studio, with sticks and industrial paint. His popular success soon gave followers the idea of doing, "in the manner of" Pollock, a kind of kitsch painting that Greenberg had first denounced in Avant-garde and Kitsch, in 1939, and then in an article in The Nation of February 23, 1946:

It was against this vulgarization that totally distorted his work that Pollock reacted by returning to figuration. On June 7, 1951, he wrote to Ossorio:

The second edition of L'Atelier de Jackson Pollock published by Macula in 1982 provided the opportunity to publish a text by Barbara Rose in French. She underlines the importance of Hans Namuth's black and white images, which were very popular. The films, on the other hand, distributed in universities, deeply affected the public of art schools and the new generations of artists, in particular Allan Kaprow and Donald Judd.

As early as 1972, Dore Ashton was able to evoke with great precision the cultural context. In particular, with the emigration of two thirds of the psychoanalysts from Europe, there was a real vogue where the concept of the unconscious was integrated into the surrealist fashion and its automatic writing. Jung's position (that of Henderson, Pollock's Jungian shrink at the end of 1938-1939), whose aesthetic conceptions found a relatively receptive climate, was better integrated by the American cultural milieu. The psychological aspect of James Joyce's Ulysses made it a reference in the artistic milieu. Jackson owned a copy next to his Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. The "incomprehensible depths of the modern soul" hung out in all the New York cafes. Those who had not read the theoretical texts knew what they were about. Film noir drew heavily on them. From 1947 on, Sartrean existentialism was associated in American culture with The Age of Anguish as it was put into form in Auden's 1946 poem and its "things thrown into existence.

The political and social context

In 1983 Serge Guilbaut's famous book Comment New York vola l'idée d'art moderne was published by the University of Chicago. It is subtitled Abstract Expressionism, Freedom and the Cold War. This book concerns Pollock in particular in its first chapter which deals with the de-marxization of the intelligentsia in New York between 1935 and 1941. Pollock evokes his realism in his letters as a mode of expression readable by the people and which must deal with popular themes. For May Day 1936, he and Siqueiros engaged in the making of banners and a float.... The Trotskyism assumed a transition that saw the left cultural environment more and more helpless with the rise of Stalin and his politics. The second chapter evokes the implantation of an American art due to the Second World War. The third chapter focuses on the "conditions of creation of a national avant-garde" in 1945-1947. It emerges that the success of Jackson Pollock was born of a singular set of circumstances in which the disappearance of the Parisian market led to the emergence of a certain self-confidence in the American cultural milieu. The next essential relay was the press, sometimes ironically. Finally, in 1953, political circles solicited Pollock's participation in the exhibition "12 Contemporary American Painters and Sculptors" at the National Museum of Modern Art, Paris. The exhibition was subsequently shown in Zurich, Düsseldorf, Stockholm, Helsinki and Oslo.

Certainly the commercial success of Pollock, who was the first of all the Abstract Expressionists to break through, rested in part on the emergence of a new wealthy class corresponding to the boom in the United States. In the midst of McCarthyism, artistic rebellion was transformed into an aggressive liberal ideology. The new liberalism identified with this art, not only because this type of painting had modern characteristics (perceived as American) but above all it embodied to the highest degree the notions of individualism and risk. Finally, these paintings could very well, with their assertive monumental character, be presented by Vogue magazine as excellent decorative elements in modern-style architectural spaces.

As for explaining Pollock's popular success, perhaps this painting simply embodied the ideal of an era, the spirit of the age: self-acceptance, transgressive freedom and speed, fluid, which he himself expressed in these words:

The fractal analysis of Jackson Pollock's works proposed by Richard Taylor, Adam Micolich and David Jonas shows that the principle of statistical self-similarity is respected. This analysis consists of verifying, by means of a grid of N squares placed on the canvas, that the proportion of patterns remains constant whatever the number of squares studied and therefore whatever the size of the squares. The black paint occupies 36% of the surface of one square, two squares... or n squares. It is the same for the other colors which occupy 13% of the canvas. The fractal dimension of density d is equal to ~1.66. In Autumn Rhythm (Number 30), d is 1.67.

The fractal dimension is constitutive of Jackson Pollock's technique and not consecutive. It defines in a mathematical way the all-over. Analysis has shown that the first works have a fractal dimension greater than 1.1 and, at the end of his life, 1.7. Moreover Pollock had destroyed a work of fractal dimension 1.9 that he considered bad, too dense while he was filmed by Hans Namuth.

Such an analysis can allow the detection of possible false Pollocks from the so-called "classical" period.

Several art critics have made connections between Pollock's work and that of the Canadian artist Jean-Paul Riopelle. A painting by Jean-Paul Riopelle presented in 1950 at the exhibition Véhémences confrontées, organized by the art critic Michel Tapié and the painter Georges Mathieu at the Nina Dausset gallery in Paris, was inspired by a work by Jackson Pollock that Michel Tapié described as "amorphous", that is to say without form or purely material.

Reproduced, with some exceptions, in the 1999 catalog.


  1. Jackson Pollock
  2. Jackson Pollock
  3. « On growth and form : Thompson, D'Arcy Wentworth, 1860-1948 », sur Free Download and Streaming : Internet Archive (consulté le 25 novembre 2015).
  4. Et il n'est pas le seul : les artistes de l'expressionnisme abstrait ont cette passion. Cf. Kirk Varnedoe dans Le Primitivisme dans l'art du XXe siècle, vol. 2, p. 615-653.
  5. On peut se reporter à la galerie de Wikimedia commons et aux liens qui en dépendent. Le montage réalisé en 1901 restitue un « équivalent approché » de l'expérience de l'exposition de 1941, dans l'espace consacré aux arts de la côte Nord-Ouest. Les totems produits par assemblage de « masques » imbriqués trouvent un écho dans les dessins de Pollock de ces années.
  6. La proximité des Demoiselles d'Avignon, (œuvre incontournable pour Pollock, comme il l'a reconnu ensuite) au MoMA dans le même temps doit nous rappeler que Picasso lui-même avait parlé de la réalisation de sa peinture comme d'un « exorcisme ».
  7. Plusieurs spécialistes de l'artiste signalent que celui-ci est né avec le cordon ombilical autour du coup, suffisamment étranglé pour en avoir été bleu ce jour-là ; sa mère le disant « noir » : Anfam 2015, p. 32, qui cite Naifeh et Smith 1999, p. 43 de l'édition anglaise.
  8. ^ a b Varnedoe, Kirk; Karmel, Pepe (1998). Jackson Pollock: Essays, Chronology, and Bibliography. Exhibition catalog. New York: The Museum of Modern Art. pp. 315–329. ISBN 978-0-87070-069-9.
  9. Naifeh y Smith, 1989.
  10. a b c d Piper, 2000, pp. 460–461.
  11. Friedman, 1995.
  12. ^ a b c David Piper. The Illustrated History of Art, ISBN 0-7537-0179-0, p460-461.
  13. ^ Il termine Dripping non ha un equivalente italiano e viene usato anche nella nostra lingua quando si parla di arte moderna per descrivere questa tecnica, specialmente riferendosi appunto a Pollock
  14. ^ "Jack lo sgocciolatore", gioco di parole con "Jack the Ripper", conosciuto in Italia come "Jack lo squartatore".
  15. ^ Jackson Pollock, "My Painting", in Pollock: Painting (curato da Barbara Rose), Agrinde Publications Ltd: New York (1980), pagina 65; originariamente pubblicato su Possibilities I, New York, edizione dell'inverno 1947-8
  16. ^ a b c Expression of an age, su pubs.socialistreviewindex.org.uk. URL consultato il 21 settembre 2007 (archiviato dall'url originale il 5 febbraio 2012).

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