Considered America’s greatest modern painter by several critics, Jackson Pollock (1912–56) developed a unique action-painting style of splashing and dripping paint on canvases. Many of us believe that an exuberant five-year-old could possibly achieve the same effect.
The Figge Art Museum in Davenport had his famous 8-by-20-foot Mural on display for three years. Stacey, Dot, and I spent part of an afternoon viewing it and other paintings from the University of Iowa Art Museum collection that were moved to Davenport after the historic flood of 2008. Mural has recently been valued at $140 million. The Art Institute of Chicago owns two fine Pollock paintings that we’ve viewed as well.
Here’s a six-slide trip to the Figge and the Art Institute and the image of a Pollock painting on a postal stamp that conveyed a card from one of us to another:
This summer we may try some abstract expressionism, or even action painting, of our own. Put away the easels and brushes; get out the knives and sticks. To that point, Pollock spoke of his technique:
My painting does not come from the easel. I prefer to tack the unstretched canvas to the hard wall or the floor. I need the resistance of a hard surface. On the floor I am more at ease. I feel nearer, more part of the painting, since this way I can walk around it, work from the four sides and literally be in the painting.
I continue to get further away from the usual painter’s tools such as easel, palette, brushes, etc. I prefer sticks, trowels, knives and dripping fluid paint or a heavy impasto with sand, broken glass or other foreign matter added.
When I am in my painting, I’m not aware of what I’m doing. It is only after a sort of ‘get acquainted’ period that I see what I have been about. I have no fear of making changes, destroying the image, etc., because the painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through. 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. —Jackson Pollock, My Painting, 1956
More on Mural
Art critic and author Henry Adams came up with a new perspective on the painting four years ago:
I’m now convinced that Pollock wrote his name in large letters on the canvas—indeed, arranged the whole painting around his name. As far as I can tell, no one has previously made this assertion. Nor is there evidence that Pollock himself, who was loath to talk about his art and left behind few written records, ever mentioned this coded gesture.
Can you find the letters?