Jackson Pollock: Stepping into the Canvas


One day Jackson Pollock was working on a small easel painting that he had struggled with for some time. He then decided to take the painting of the easel and rest it on the floor. Next he poured some paint on the surface to finish it. From this deceptively, simple decision an entire set of creative possibilities opened up to Pollock and he spent the next 5 years of his career exploring them.

Jackson Pollock began making his drip paintings in 1947. They completely revolutionized the way a painting was supposed to be made. Imagine that you are inside Jackson Pollock’s studio and visualize how he worked. He didn’t use conventional artist’s brushes to smear liquid paint across the surface of the painting. Pollock used sticks or dried paint brushes to drip, drizzle, pour or splash paint onto the canvas below him. He used industrial car or radiator paint. Pollock essentially drew in space so that drawing actions would happen in the air before falling down to the canvas. The rhythm of poured paint would develop across the surface across the painting.

Convergence:Number 10 © Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
Convergence: Number 10 © Albright-Knox Art Gallery, New York

Art historians at the time coined this form ‘Action Painting’ because of the idea that you could imagine the kind of actions that went into the assembly of the picture. You can imagine Pollock moving around the painting like a dancer. You can visualize the rotations of his elbow and his shoulder as he launched and drizzled paint onto the canvas below.

For Pollock the drama of painting on the floor meant that not only physically but emotionally he could be in the painting! Stepping into the canvas he would lose himself to this trance like, painting practice. Artists were profoundly influenced by this radical way of working. Pollock was the first American artist to capture the popular imagination. The Pollock myth was of a cowboy born and raised in Wyoming who became a star in the new modern art world until his death in 1956.

Look out for the next article on Jackson Pollock, which will be all about his life. It will be called Jackson Pollock: The Misunderstood Cowboy. If you want to find out more, take a look at this documentary which shows the artist at work.


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