20TH CENTURY ART
Jackson Pollock was an American painter and a major force in the Abstract Expressionist movement of the 1940s and 1950s. Works by the Abstract Expressionists were sometimes called action paintings, because they put a big emphasis on the physical act of painting itself as an essential part of a finished work. Pollock did his most famous action paintings during his so-called "drip period" between 1947 and 1950. Here’s the story of one of those paintings, titled Number 27, simply because it was the 27th painting he did that year.
CLICK ON/ JAZZ MUSIC PLAYING OVER SMALL HIFI SPEAKER...
ROOM AMBIENCE, SOMEONE IS MOVING AROUND
The year is 1950. In Jackson Pollock’s studio, Jazz, his favorite music, plays from a small phonograph. Pollock moves quickly around a large unstretched canvas lying on the floor. As he moves he dips a paintbrush into a can of paint. But instead of touching the brush to the canvas, he begins to drip the paint on the canvas, creating long threads, splatters, and pools of color. He does this again and again, staring intensely at the canvas as he works. Occasionally, instead of a brush he dips a stick into the paint, again using it to splatter and drip paint across the canvas. Sometimes he just picks up the can of paint and pours it on the canvas. Later Pollock switches to other cans of paint, each a different color, and eventually there are six colors in the painting Number 27. He continues to move energetically around all four sides of the canvas, almost as if in a dance, and he doesn’t stop until he sees what he wants to see and he feels that the painting is finished.
SFX: MUSIC ENDS. RADIO CLICKS OFF/AMBIENCE OUT
This description of Jackson’s painting style makes clear that his paintings are abstract, not images that people could identify. With that thought in mind, here’s a verbal description of Number 27
It’s a large oil painting on canvas, nine feet long horizontally and four and a half feet tall. The first impression of Number 27 is that it looks like someone dripped and splattered different colored paints all over a canvas. At first glance, the painting looks accidental, even sloppy. But if you try to isolate a single color and follow its path through the painting, you’ll see that actually Pollock carefully and deliberately constructed the painting, painstakingly building up the surface.
The first color he put down was black. We can tell because all the colors are layered over it.
In Number 27, Pollock used 6 colors: black, white, yellow, olive green, gray, and pale pink. The tangled lines and layers of paint on the canvas are a record of Pollock’s movements, fast or slow, arching or abrupt. And they are a record of the raw emotion he felt while in the creative process. Eventually he covered almost the entire surface of the painting, though there are many places where you can see the off white natural color of the canvas in the background.
In putting paint on canvas the way he did, Pollock was expressing his deeply personal ideas and feelings.
Here’s how he said it: “Today painters do not have to go to a subject matter outside of themselves. Most modern painters work from a different source. They work from within...When I am in my painting, I'm not aware of what I'm doing. It is only after a sort of 'get acquainted' period that I see what I have been about…the painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through."
Pollock painted Number 27 in 1950, five years after the end of World War II. The world was reeling from the anxieties of the war, the dropping of the atomic bomb, and the start of the Cold War and the arms race. Artists such as Pollock responded by creating art that was deeply personal and that made a clean break with the past. Pollock challenged the Western tradition of using easel and brush. In his so-called action painting, he used his whole body to paint. His work had enormous influence on other painters and his contemporary artists respected Pollock for his deeply personal and totally uncompromising commitment to the art of painting.
Pollock struggled with alcoholism his entire life. At the height of his career in 1956, he died in an alcohol-related car crash less than a mile from his home in Springs, New York.