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Jackson Pollock: Art as a Reflection of Personal Circumstances


Jackson Pollock will forever be one of the great Abstract Expressionists of his time. Pollock’s focus on using the drip method for his oil paintings is recognizable to even those with minimal knowledge of his work. Many of Pollock’s pieces are currently held at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City where they are frequently on display for museum visitors to take in. One of Pollock’s most famous pieces, and my personal favorite, One: Number 31 was gifted to the MOMA by the Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection Fund with the rest of their private collection in 1967 (Glueck).  

One: Number 31, an oil and enamel painting, was created in 1950 and is part of Pollock’s series of drip paintings, as they are frequently referred to, that he began in 1947. One: Number 31, is one of the darkest pieces in the series and although similar to Number 1A, completed in 1948, is busier and more chaotic. This intense sense of disorder and madness in Pollock’s pieces could be a reflection of his personal situation at the time of their creation, although Pollock himself did not think of his pieces as chaotic but rather planned out and technical in their approach (Time Magazine).  In taking a deep look at the transitions between Pollock’s series throughout the years it is evidently clear that there are not many. His transitions are abrupt and his portfolio of work looks as though it was completed by multiple artists rather than one. Some historians have said that this is because of his personal moods and life circumstances. As The New York Times stated, “the restless movements back and forth and all over his canvases cover a void that is absolute” (Brenson, 1).

For the majority of his life, Pollock struggled with alcoholism and the change in his work from one series to another seemed to follow this pattern (Columbia University). Although Pollock never openly stated whether or not this was a coincidence, the time tables seem to match up accordingly. Between the years of 1947 to 1950 when Pollock created his drip paintings, he was said to have been treated for his alcoholism, whereas in 1951 his paintings seemed to once again revert into a more aggressive style as his drinking once again escalated (Columbia University). This revelation of Pollock’s pieces being consistent with his personal circumstances at the time leaves the viewer to consider the possibility that these paintings such as One: Number 31 were not created in order to appeal to a particular audience but rather for personal relief and expression. If Pollock’s pieces were not intended for a specific audience, this could also explain why he chose to neglect giving them descriptive titles and instead chose to use numbers as “numbers are neutral” (Museum of Modern Art).



“Art: Chaos, Damn It!” Time Magazine (1950). http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,813805,00.html

Glueck, Grace. “Sidney Janis, Trend-Setting Art Dealer, Dies at 93.” The New York Times. 24 November 1989. http://www.nytimes.com/1989/11/24/obituaries/sidney-janis-trend-setting-art-dealer-dies-at-93.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

“Gallery Label Text. Abstract Expressionist New York: October 3, 2010-April 5, 2011.” Museum of Modern Art. 14 October 2012. http://www.moma.org/collection/object.php?object_id=78699

Brenson, Michael. “Art View; Divining the Legacy of Jackson Pollock.” The New York Times. 13 December 1987. http://www.nytimes.com/1987/12/13/arts/art-view-divining-the-legacy-of-jackson-pollock.html

“Jackson Pollock: A Monograph.” Columbia University. 14 October 2012. http://www.learn.columbia.edu/monographs/pollock/



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