Full Fathom Five is one of Pollock's first "drip" paintings. While its top layers consist of poured lines of black and shiny silver house paint, a large part of the paint's crust was applied by brush and palette knife; the result is a labyrinthine web that reveals an instantaneous unity between multiple crisscrossing and planar forms with no contours. An assortment of detritus, from cigarette butts to coins and a key, are enfolded by the paint. Though many of these items are obscured, they contribute to the painting's dense surface and churning sensation. The title, suggested by Pollock's neighbor, quotes from Shakespeare's The Tempest, wherein Ariel describes a death by shipwreck: "Full fathom five thy father lies / Of his bones are coral made / Those are pearls that were his eyes."
Gallery label from 2006
Full Fathom Five is one of Pollock’s earliest “drip” paintings. While its lacelike top layers consist of poured skeins of house paint, Pollock built up the underlayer using a brush and palette knife. A close look reveals an assortment of objects embedded in the surface, including cigarette butts, nails, thumbtacks, buttons, coins, and a key. Though many of these items are obscured by paint, they contribute to the work’s dense and encrusted appearance. The title, suggested by a neighbor, comes from Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, in which the character Ariel describes a death by shipwreck: “Full fathom five thy father lies / Of his bones are coral made / Those are pearls that were his eyes.”
Gallery label from Abstract Expressionist New York, October 3, 2010-April 25, 2011