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On view  |  Painting and Sculpture II, Gallery 16, Floor 4

Jackson Pollock. One: Number 31, 1950. 1950

A Signature Style

One: Number 31, 1950 is an immense network of overlapping lines, drips, and splatters of paint on canvas. To create this and his other drip paintings, Pollock began by tacking unstretched, unprimed canvas to the floor...

“No Chaos, Damn It”

One: Number 31, 1950 is an immense network of overlapping lines, drips, and splatters of paint on canvas. To create this and his other drip paintings, Pollock began by tacking unstretched, unprimed canvas to the floor. Armed with a can of enamel paint in one hand and a stick or hardened brush in the other, he walked around—and even on—the canvas, dripping and pouring paint. This method required not just the use of his wrist and arm, but his entire body. “When I am in my painting,” Pollock once wrote, “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.”

“No Chaos, Damn It”

In November 20, 1950, Time magazine quoted an Italian critic who wrote of Pollock’s work, “It is easy to detect the following things in all of his paintings: Chaos...

In November 20, 1950, Time magazine quoted an Italian critic who wrote of Pollock’s work, “It is easy to detect the following things in all of his paintings: Chaos. Absolute lack of harmony. Complete lack of structural organization. Total absence of technique, however rudimentary. Once again, chaos.” Pollock replied with a telegram stating, “No chaos, damn it.” Although he worked spontaneously and admitted chance effects into his work, Pollock asserted that he maintained control while making his drip paintings.

A closer look at this work reveals some of the decisions made in the act of painting: the selection of colors; the use of contrasting matte and glossy paints; if the lines would be thick or thin, fast or slow; whether to wait for the paint to dry or to work wet-on-wet, so that different paints bleed and pool; and a host of others. Only when the painting was completed did Pollock determine where the edges should be. In One: Number 31, 1950, Pollock left a breathing space bordering all four sides of the field of paint. However, in other paintings, the lines and spatters continue beyond the edges.

"I am Nature"

Influenced by the Surrealist strategy of automatism (drawing, painting, or writing freely to unearth un- or subconscious desires) as well as his experience in Jungian psychoanalysis, Pollock believed his free and yet controlled application of paint had a connection to his inner being—his unconscious—which was in turn connected to larger forces outside the self...

Influenced by the Surrealist strategy of automatism (drawing, painting, or writing freely to unearth un- or subconscious desires) as well as his experience in Jungian psychoanalysis, Pollock believed his free and yet controlled application of paint had a connection to his inner being—his unconscious—which was in turn connected to larger forces outside the self. One: Number 31, 1950 exemplifies this relationship between the self and the universal. When asked to describe the relationship between his work and nature, Pollock stated emphatically, “I am nature.”

Action Painting

Art critic Harold Rosenberg coined the term action painting in 1952, writing that "at a certain moment the canvas began to appear to one American painter after another as an arena in which to act...

Art critic Harold Rosenberg coined the term action painting in 1952, writing that "at a certain moment the canvas began to appear to one American painter after another as an arena in which to act—rather than as a space in which to reproduce, re-design, analyze or 'express' an object.... What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event."

Specifically, the term describes the work of artists who painted with gestures that involved more than just the traditional use of the fingers and wrist to paint, including also the arm, shoulder, and even legs. Often the viewer can see broad brushstrokes or other evidence of the physical action that took place before the canvas, and in many of these works of art the kinetic energy that went into the making of the painting remains vivid.

Although "action painting" became to some degree synonymous with Abstract Expressionism, it didn't apply to all of those artists. For example, Mark Rothko or Barnett Newman left little or no trace of the artist's touch. On the other hand, the works of Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Franz Kline exemplify action painting.

Allover Painting

Allover painting refers to a canvas covered in paint from edge to edge and from corner to corner, in which each area of the composition is given equal attention and significance...

Allover painting refers to a canvas covered in paint from edge to edge and from corner to corner, in which each area of the composition is given equal attention and significance. This is a radically different approach from modes of painting that offer specific focal points, such as the sitter's face in the case of a portrait. With an allover composition, our eyes are invited to wander the canvas from the top to the bottom, following lines, shapes, and colors.

Enamel Paints

Enamel paints are household and automobile paints that are formulated to be very fluid. They are typically opaque and rich in pigment, since they are designed to cover a surface in a single coat of paint...

Enamel paints are household and automobile paints that are formulated to be very fluid. They are typically opaque and rich in pigment, since they are designed to cover a surface in a single coat of paint. Enamels can use an array of different binders that include alkyd (a modified linseed oil), acrylic, latex, and oil. Abstract Expressionist artists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning were among the first to regularly use enamel paints in making works of art.

New York School

The Abstract Expressionists are sometimes called New York School artists. There wasn't any actual "New York School" where artists took classes; rather, the term is shorthand for a loose association of avant-garde artists...

The Abstract Expressionists are sometimes called New York School artists. There wasn't any actual "New York School" where artists took classes; rather, the term is shorthand for a loose association of avant-garde artists who lived in New York in the mid-twentieth century, and who made art in the Abstract Expressionist style. The New York School artists established a meeting place in New York's Greenwich Village, The Club, which became a hub of Abstract Expressionist debates and activities from 1949 to around 1960.

In addition to describing visual artists, the term "New York School" has also been applied to a group of poets that included Frank O'Hara and John Ashbery, and a group of composers that included John Cage and Morton Feldman. Less directly, it can refer to many dancers, choreographers, prose writers, and jazz musicians. Many of the key figures in each of these circles formed close personal and aesthetic relationships, collaborating and sharing creative influences across different mediums.

Paint

Paint is most often a combination of pigment, binder, and solvent. Pigment is the colored portion of the paint. It is often a finely ground material that is either found in nature or artificially produced...

Paint is most often a combination of pigment, binder, and solvent. Pigment is the colored portion of the paint. It is often a finely ground material that is either found in nature or artificially produced. Binder holds the individual grains of pigment together. In oil paint, the most common binder is linseed oil, which typically dries to the touch in about one week. The binder in most acrylic paint is an acrylic resin; the binder in watercolor paint is a natural resin called gum arabic. Solvent is a liquid that thins the paint. The most common solvent in oil painting is turpentine. Water is the solvent for acrylic emulsion and watercolor paints.

Palette Knife

A palette knife is a type of spatula typically used to mix paint on the palette...

A palette knife is a type of spatula typically used to mix paint on the palette. It can also be used to apply paint directly on the canvas and to remove it from the canvas.

Scale

By the end of the 1940s, most of the Abstract Expressionist painters were working on canvases that were taller and/or wider than a human being, that is, on a large scale...

By the end of the 1940s, most of the Abstract Expressionist painters were working on canvases that were taller and/or wider than a human being, that is, on a large scale. Large-scale Abstract Expressionist paintings envelop the viewer and saturate his or her field of vision. Besides radically changing the relationship between viewer and painting, large-scale Abstract Expressionist canvases served as literal announcements of the grandeur of their makers' ambitions.

Murals had been created for centuries, but such historically grand-scale works were designed to tell a story, using recognizable figures. Rather than telling a particular narrative, the large-scale canvases of Abstract Expressionism often vibrate with creative energy and trigger feelings, emotions, or sensations in those viewing them.

The Irascibles

The Irascibles is the label given to a group of Abstract Expressionist artists who wrote an open letter to the president of The Metropolitan Museum of Art...

The Irascibles is the label given to a group of Abstract Expressionist artists who wrote an open letter to the president of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, protesting the museum's exhibition American Painting Today 1950. The exhibition included no examples of Abstract Expressionist painting, and the group believed that the show's curators promoted only the most conservative kind of American painting and were "hostile to advanced art." In 1951, fourteen of the artists were assembled for a now iconic photograph, published by Life magazine in an article called "Irascible Group of Advanced Artists Led Fight Against Show."

Tint, Shade and Tone

In painting, a tint is a color plus white, a shade is a color plus black...

In painting, a tint is a color plus white, a shade is a color plus black, and a tone is a color plus gray.

Viscosity

Viscosity is the thickness of a liquid. Low-viscosity liquids are very fluid (such as water) while high-viscosity liquids are quite thick (such as molasses)...

Viscosity is the thickness of a liquid. Low-viscosity liquids are very fluid (such as water) while high-viscosity liquids are quite thick (such as molasses). The viscosity of oil paints is usually reduced by adding binder (such as linseed oil) and/or solvent (such as turpentine). At a lower viscosity, paint can be brushed onto the canvas more freely and quickly.

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Jackson Pollock (American, 1912–1956)

One: Number 31, 1950

Date:
1950
Medium:
Oil and enamel paint on canvas
Dimensions:
8' 10" x 17' 5 5/8" (269.5 x 530.8 cm)
Credit Line:
Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection Fund (by exchange)
MoMA Number:
7.1968
Copyright:
© 2014 Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Audio Program excerpt

MoMA Audio: Collection

, 2008

Curator, Ann Temkin: Jackson Pollock is best known for what we have come to call his drip paintings. And drip is probably not so fair a name for them because a lot more is going on here than simply holding a can of paint and dripping it down on to a canvas.

He had made, for many years, paintings on easels in a kind of conventional way with brushes and oil paints. And then around 1947 decided that he was going to approach his work in an entirely new way. Then decided that he would paint with canvases unstretched, laid out on the floor. He would actually move his body around, above them, over them, working with paint that was in cans and with sticks or with stiffened paint brushes, he would less drip than probably fling the paint from the cans onto the canvas with what is actually, we now recognize, an enormous amount of control. Because if you look at the way these various lines of paint skate all over the canvas, you realize the degree to which there is some kind of incredible calculation of when the paint gets thinner and thicker and lighter and heavier and faster and slower.

This was a very physical kind of painting. It wasn't a painting that one could do sitting down, or that one did without a tremendous expenditure of energy. And that energy actually is transferred on to the canvas in a way that's very direct and immediate.

Conservator, James Coddington: Certainly when he was making these paintings, and in years since, people asked then and still ask the question, 'How is it that these paintings, aren't in constant need of restoration?' In fact, they hold together very well.

The paints Pollock used were industrial paints, and they're really quite robust. What he was doing when he was making these works was he was gesturing out across the canvas, which created these long, throws and skeins of paint and the way these layers interact with one another is really very solid. They tend to hold together very well, the canvas itself is unprimed and so the paint will literally catch into the canvas fibers itself, which holds it very well. So overall, one finds the Pollock paintings to be in quite good condition.

Director, Glenn Lowry: Ben Heller, Jackson Pollock, and Pollock’s wife, artist Lee Krasner, formed a strong friendship back in the 1950s. Heller first saw this painting at Pollock’s house in East Hampton, Long Island.

Ben Heller: I was bowled over. Why, I can't tell you why. It was gorgeous. And I asked Lee, would Jackson sell this? And she said, "You'd have to ask him. I wouldn't but he might." And he did. And he gave me four years to pay. And I paid a record price at the time $8,000. We all laugh today.

I never saw a lot of the aggressiveness in the work. That doesn't mean that Jackson couldn't be aggressive personally.

When he painted One was a period that he was off all liquor, that he was very comfortable.

That's how the name One came. Lee and Jackson and I were having dinner. And we talked about how Jackson felt at that time and he was talking about how he was at "one" with the world. And how he felt at one with nature. So we sat out on the grass on the lawn behind the house and if you looked out there and you see the stars and the leaves and the grasses, or you go to the ocean and you see the waves curling up and you look at the underbelly of the wave, you can see, in a funny way, Jackson's work.

The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 194

One is a masterpiece of the "drip," or pouring, technique, the radical method that Pollock contributed to Abstract Expressionism. Moving around an expanse of canvas laid on the floor, Pollock would fling and pour ropes of paint across the surface. One is among the largest of his works that bear evidence of these dynamic gestures. The canvas pulses with energy: strings and skeins of enamel, some matte, some glossy, weave and run, an intricate web of tans, blues, and grays lashed through with black and white. The way the paint lies on the canvas can suggest speed and force, and the image as a whole is dense and lush—yet its details have a lacelike filigree, a delicacy, a lyricism.

The Surrealists' embrace of accident as a way to bypass the conscious mind sparked Pollock's experiments with the chance effects of gravity and momentum on falling paint. Yet although works like One have neither a single point of focus nor any obvious repetition or pattern, they sustain a sense of underlying order. This and the physicality of Pollock's method have led to comparisons of his process with choreography, as if the works were the traces of a dance. Some see in paintings like One the nervous intensity of the modern city, others the primal rhythms of nature.

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