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The Processes and Materials of Abstract Expressionist Painting

Discover the innovative tecniques of Abstract Expressionist painters


One: Number 31, 1950

Jackson Pollock
(American, 1912–1956)

1950. Oil and enamel paint on canvas, 8' 10" x 17' 5 5/8" (269.5 x 530.8 cm)

This is one of three wall-size paintings that Pollock made in the summer and autumn of 1950. He began by laying canvas on the floor and pouring, dribbling, and flicking enamel paint onto the surface, sometimes straight from the can or with sticks and stiffened brushes. He put holes in the bottom of paint cans, squeezed paint from a tube, and even used a turkey baster or stiff brush. The density of interlacing liquid threads of paint is balanced and offset by puddles of muted colors and by allover spattering. The pictorial result of this tension is a landmark in the history of Abstract Expressionism.

Pollock described his process, stating: “My painting does not come from the easel … I prefer to tack the unstretched canvas to the hard wall or floor. … 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 the four sides and literally be in the painting. I prefer sticks, trowels, knives, and dripping fluid paint. … When I am in my painting, I’m not aware of what I’m doing. It is only when I lose contact with the painting that the result is a mess. Otherwise there is pure harmony, an easy give and take, and the painting comes out well.”1

Jackson Pollock, "My Painting," Possibilities I (Winter 1947–48), 78–83.

The state of being stretched or strained; in construction, the level of tautness when a load is applied to a structure.

A combination of pigment, binder, and solvent (noun); the act of producing a picture using paint (verb, gerund).

A type of paint made from very fine pigments and resin that form a glossy surface. Also, the application of this paint to a material in order to create a smooth and glossy surface.

An artistic movement made up of American artists in the 1940s and 1950s, also known as the New York School, or more narrowly, action painting. Abstract Expressionism is usually characterized by large abstract painted canvases, although the movement also includes sculpture and other media.

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.

Multimedia

AUDIO: Collector Ben Heller describes the title of Jackson Pollock’s One: Number 31, 1950