One: Number 31, 1950


Jackson Pollock

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One: Number 31, 1950

Jackson Pollock. One: Number 31, 1950. 1950. Oil and enamel paint on canvas, 8' 10" x 17' 5 5/8" (269.5 x 530.8 cm). Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection Fund (by exchange). © 2014 Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Audio Program excerpt

MoMA Audio: Collection


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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