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)
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 2019
Jackson Pollock was at the height of his career when he made One: Number 31, 1950. One of three wall-size paintings he produced in swift succession in the summer and fall of 1950, it is a field of densely interlaced threads of paint offset by pools and splashes of color. He began by laying canvas on the floor and pouring, dribbling, and flicking enamel paint onto its surface, sometimes straight from the can or with sticks and stiffened brushes. He would also convey paint onto his canvases by punching holes in the bottom of paint cans, squeezing it directly from tubes, and even using a turkey baster.
Although he was not the first to explore liquid enamels, Pollock harnessed their physical properties more dramatically than ever before. His interest in the Surrealists’ embrace of chance and accident, which sparked his initial experiments with the effects of gravity and momentum on falling paint, led him to the style that would become synonymous with his name. He also drew from European artists who dripped paint in their work, including Hans Hofmann, and from Navajo sand painting. But as Pollock maintained, focus should be directed at the work of art itself. “Technique is just a means of arriving at a statement,” he once said.