Jackson Pollock

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The artist whose work best epitomises gestural abstraction is Jackson Pollock (1912-1956), who developed his signature style in the mid-1940s. By 1950, Pollock had mastered his technique and was creating large-scale abstract paintings, which consist of rhythmic drips, splatters, and dribbles of paint. The mural-sized fields of energetic skeins of pigment surround viewers, drawing them into a delicate spider web. Using sticks or brushes, Pollock flung, poured, and dripped paint (not only traditional oil paints, but also aluminium paints and household enamels) onto a section of canvas he simply unrolled across his studio floor. Parker Tyler coined the metaphor of the infinite labyrinth: a dead-end labyrinth whose key not even its creator owned. This working method earned Pollock the derisive nickname “Jack the Dripper”.

On his painting process, Pollock declares: “It is only when I lose contact with the painting that the result is a mess. Otherwise there is pure harmony, an easy give and take, and the painting comes out well.” Pollock literally immersed himself in the painting during its creation. Responding to the image as it developed, he created art that was spontaneous yet choreographed. Scholars have connected Pollock’s ideas about improvisation in the creative process to his interest in what psychiatrist Carl Jung called the collective unconscious. The improvisational nature of Pollock’s work and his reliance on the subconscious also have parallels in the “psychic automatism” of Surrealism and the work of Vassily Kandinsky. A towering figure in 20th-century art, Pollock tragically died in a car accident at age 44. Surviving him was his wife, Lee Krasner, whom art historians recognise as a major Abstract Expressionist painter.


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