One: Number 31, 1950, one of Pollock’s largest paintings, exemplifies his “drip” technique, in which he dropped, dribbled, or threw paint onto a canvas laid on the floor. His looping cords of color accordingly register force and speed yet are also graceful and lyrical, animating every inch of the composition. On the floor, Pollock said, “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.” Pollock’s process has been compared to the movements of a dance.
Gallery label from Collection 1940s—1970s, 2019
One: Number 31, 1950 exemplifies at a grand scale the radical “drip” technique that defined Pollock’s Abstract Expressionist style. Moving around an expanse of canvas laid on the floor, Pollock flung and poured 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 suggests speed and force, and the image as a whole is dense and lush—yet its details have a delicacy and 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. However, 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.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)