While it may seem like a contradiction to speak of chaos and precision in the same sentence, the work of Jackson Pollock demands it. At the same time that his paintings depict disorder, frenetic abandon, and a turbulence of nearly cosmic... [more]
While it may seem like a contradiction to speak of chaos and precision in the same sentence, the work of Jackson Pollock demands it. At the same time that his paintings depict disorder, frenetic abandon, and a turbulence of nearly cosmic proportions, they demonstrate perfect balance. The manner in which Pollock's string-like curls and tangles of paint communicate with one another as if in a dance expresses harmony in the midst of dissonance, composure in the midst of chaos. His distribution of color and shape creates palpitating energy that hovers at the edge between symmetry and undifferentiated murk.
"My paintings do not have a center," Pollock stated, "but depend on the same amount of interest throughout." You need only let your eyes wander over one of his enormous canvases to confirm this remark. There is rarely a single sector that draws your attention towards it; the entirety of the canvas is equally erratic. Of course there are nodes, points of intersection where swarms of wriggling strands of paint tangle together -- but by distributing such nodes carefully over the canvas, Pollock prevents the eye from fixing on any one. Each painting demands to be seen as a whole, even while its totality is ungraspable. The density of detail almost does violence to the eye, if it strives to contemplate the work's entirety. In effect, Pollock rebuffs the viewer's focus, thus keeping the viewer suspended and caught in the chaos that he carefully creates.
Commenting on "No. 1, 1948," the critic Alfred H. Barr Jr. remarked: "It provides an energetic adventure for the eyes, a luna park full of fireworks, pitfalls, surprises, and delights...the whirling vortex of lines develops a mysterious depth and glow of light, without, however, destroying the sense of picture surface." That is, Pollock's paintings, while chaotic and vortical, never fold in or collapse on themselves; they maintain an underlying integrity. Form and structure distinguish themselves, despite the manic complication and involution of spattered color.
Pollock's technique was as innovative as the paintings to which it gave rise. He laid his huge canvases out on the ground and painted from above, drizzling paint directly from the can. He walked around the canvases, approached them from different angles, spread his attention equally over their entirety. He even walked on them. You can see his footprints in a number of pieces; they bear witness to the physicality that was so essential to his work. Rather than standing back from the canvas and contemplating it from a distance, Pollock applied himself directly to it, immersed himself in the act. As Pollock described it, "On the floor I am more at ease. I feel nearer, more a part of the painting, since this way I can walk around it, work from four sides and literally be in the painting." [show less]