Number 1A by Jackson Pollock (1948)

In 1937 Jackson Pollock, the American painter from Cody, Wyoming, was fighting an uphill battle against alcoholism and depression. Pollock will eventually spend 4 months inside a psychiatric hospital to receive treatment. Returning to his work, Pollock progressively dove deeper into abstraction. He started to combine the teachings he received from Davis Alfaro Sequieros with motifs that can be found in the works of Miró and Picasso. In 1943, a certain Peggy Guggenheim commissioned Pollock to create a painting for her new house, for which he would produce his fist ‘fresco’ entitled Mural*. A real turning point, Pollock  put forward a new and very personal style; the figurative was abandoned in favour of a form of automatic writing and unconscious imagination. On seeing the painting, the great art critic Clement Greenberg rather simply said ‘I took one look at it and I thought, ‘Now that’s great art,’ and I knew Jackson was the greatest painter this country had produced.”.

“Because a painting has a life of its own. I try to let it live.” – J.P

Gaining a greater workspace with the financial assistance of Mrs Guggenheim, Pollock was able to lay his canvases down on the floor and move freely around them. With the aid of sticks and spatulas he would trickle and ‘drip’ paint onto his canvas. Pollock moved around his room, bucket of paint in one hand and his instrument in the other, giving all of himself to his work –  we can even see his handprints spread across the top of the painting in No.1 A. Adopting rough and quick movements (inspired by Indian sand painting techniques), Pollock would take weeks to complete this painting, adding layer after layer of paint. He even went so far to add the elements – sand, glass, and on occassion, pebbles.

Yet, as to be expected, this new innovative process was initially met with skepticism. At Pollock’s first solo show, collectors rejected his awesome ‘Drip Paintings,’ failing to understand the apparent chaos of these works. Paintings such as Number 1 (the A was added later as to reduce confusion with other works) remained unsold.  However, later that year, his works were exhibited again, and this new audience recognised the raw and undefined emotion that marks Pollock’s work as brilliant. When Life Magazine subsequently posed the question ‘Is he the greatest painter living in America today?’, the answer was a resounding ‘yes.’  Jackson Pollock was catapulted to fame, becoming one the first living American painters to be considered equal to his European counterparts.

What is clear is that painting for Jackson Pollock is an expression of his feelings, rather than an illustration of them. Though he may not know what he is doing or even where he is going, the end result is always as beautifully powerful as intended.

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