Jackson Pollack, the absolute king of the New York school of AB-EX, the most polarizing figure in modern art, and in fact some would say the king of modern American art as well, right next to Andy Warhol of course. Used as the primary example of art’s decline in terms of realism and technical ability, and one of the most bemoaned figures of “modern art”, and the most immediate example that comes to mind for most normals when they give that subtle eye roll when hearing those words “modern art”; People either love to hate him or hate to love him, either way, Pollock still retains relevance even to this day, or else why would so many people, even artists themselves, look at his work and say “ah, I could splash a few drips on a canvas”. I realize that I am given the precarious task of defending Pollock to a less than savory audience, and dear read, I must warn you, I do like a challenge! So let us give a general overview of Pollock’s intent behind him birthing what we now colloquially refer to as “action painting”; many have imitated it in their own exotic ways, or have for honesty’s sake, blatantly tried to replicate and rip off that original aesthetic of a giant Pollock tapestry. Of course it is true that one uses the intellect when dealing with artistic modernism, and perhaps hacks have gotten by with silver academic tongues spewing artist-speak, and promotional savvy on the part of favorable critics, but Pollock “walks the walk” so to speak in terms of his techniques having a real meaning…..Although it did help to be promoted by one of the foremost critics of all time Clement Greenberg.
Pollock wanted to tap into the immediacy of automatism often employed with the surrealists and their various theories of the unconscious. The first paintings of Pollock were more painterly, showing visible details instead of the seemingly chaotic layers of drips and splashes. Pollock by happenstance enveloped his technique by spilling fluid paint on the canvas. He put the works on the ground, and employed newly formulated enamel and oil industrial paints at the time that could be purchased in bulk, and thinned with turpentine down to a liquid consistency. Pollock would harden brushes, use sticks, even turkey basters to splash color ground on different zones of the canvas, and then go to work, dancing all over the canvas, dripping, splashing, scraping, putting his fingers and feet into it. These were very physical works of art that even inspired forms of modern dance, as he was filmed dashing from all angles of the canvas. It seemed like random child’s play, and perhaps trying to replicate the direct connection with the unconscious that children have factored into it, but Pollock had feelings about where the paint should land, and specific compositions in mind during the painting process. He became quite accurate at molding the shapes and arrangements of the thousands of slender liquid ropes of paint in mid air.
Pollock always tired to innovate and reinvent himself, so he would change color pallets and patterns of drippings. The biggest contrast in the very flat and one-dimension surface of a Pollock piece is not representation of any kind, but the interplay between the micro and macrocosm of artistic expression. Inside the paintings are intricate layers of drips and painting splashes, often piling together in sediments or bricolage, blending spontaneously, like galaxy clusters. On the macro level, Pollock painted giant wallpaper sized canvases to totally capture the viewer into the piece, disorientating them, grabbing their immediate attention as you absorb yourself in this milky way of colors, shapes and lines. You can see every recorded bit of action from Pollock, a living record of movement like Monet’s visible and directional brush strokes decades before.
The DEEP always captured my attention and is my favorite work of Pollock’s, and some would say is his most mature, yet tragic work. Pollock at this time before his untimely death in the late 50s (due to drinking and diving at staggering speeds, what he considered a form of artistic, heroic, yet fated expression in itself), did little work, as he struggled with intense alcoholism, anger issues, relationships souring, and above all an intense drive to reinvent himself artistically before he became a parody.
The deep is his most minimalist of works, as his paintings progressed into more and more barren and monotone color contrasts. A black canvas colored with layers of grey, then blinding white with yellow mixed in, a direct contrast similar to that of the Taoist Yin-Yang wheel. The grey and black seat of Pollack’s unconscious is a metaphor for the ‘oceanic feeling” Freud gave to ecstatic religious experience. The waters of the ocean are an expression of the unconscious self, and Pollack tried to find a metaphor to express the workings of his inner psyche, as he had undergone Jungian psychoanalysis for years.
When Pollack was producing another work, a photographer came to see him and commented upon the unusualness of the piece compared to the other ones. Pollock said ti is a hole that is begin swallowed up, a hole where your deepest secrets hide that not even you are aware exists. To have secrets hidden from yourself is the world of the Jungian unconscious, crying out for wholeness and expression in the process of individuation. The deep is like a Rorschach test that compels you to look inside and figure out or yourself what you can personally take from its abysmal quality. The light of knowing is going to cover and envelop the secret abysmal psych whole, its as if Pollock is afraid to reveal what is inside himself, saying to the view “act, before the light takes us”.
As Kandinsky said, Black is mournful, nocturnal and mysterious, filled with death, while white is joyful and light, but together the two primary colors make grey, the color of toneless immobility. The deeper shades of grey invoke dissonance and unpleasantness, confusion, chaos, and the product of two active colors smashing against one another. Pollock was expressing this inner dissonance of the middle value in The Deep, And as Greenberg commented, Pollock had that characteristic “Gothic darkness” to his paintings. In other words, its Jungian, archetypal, its Transcendent BUCKO.