Discuss the work of Jackson Pollock, considering his painting as an expression of his times with the growing interest and awareness of psychology and psychiatry and of the subconscious. Jackson Pollock was an American artist and prominent figure for art from the late 1940s until his premature death in 1956. He developed a distinguished influence in America for expressionist painting, initiating the abstract expressionism movement in New York post-World War II, when the city overtook Paris as the ‘art capital’ of the world.
His work was consequential from self-expression and psychological release, and received a tremendous response from the public for his unique artistic methods and the emotional response encouraged in his work. His growing affiliation with psychology, psychiatry and his interest in the subconscious affected his works as he conveyed mental and emotional states of mind and used his troubles as a basis for his creativity.
Portrayed within his paintings are Pollock’s conflicting emotions and sides of his personality, being an unsettled, uncaring side and a sensitive side. His artworks were total abstractions, with no representational forms, and he showed disregard for traditional painting conventions. Visually, his paintings were reflective of both the vibrancy and spirit of American culture, but even more so of his personal ongoing hardships and their consequential effects on his mind and identity.
His original technique of painting in dripping, splashing and pouring paint would generate movement, which symbolized different emotions, and the intensity of said emotions. This movement combined with the colours he chose to use also developed the tone and mood of his work. Pollock endured an ongoing adversity as an alcoholic, and would often experience high peaks of intense emotion, which was when he said he did his best work. This was displayed in all of his paintings and derived emotional responses from the audience too.
He devised his own technique in action painting, where he would drip, splash and pour paint onto his canvas that lay on the ground; and would often walk around the canvas whilst doing so; this practice created movement within his artworks. Movement that portrayed quick, hurried action was representative of intense anger, urgency, anxiety or euphoric happiness, whilst movement that portrayed seemingly slow, heavy action was symbolic of sadness, despair or emptiness. Blue Poles’, originally titled ‘Number 11’ is one of Pollock’s most famous artworks and one of his most significant in self-expression. As well as his typical use of paint on canvas using his renowned drip technique, Pollock incorporated shards of glass and footprints into the work, which was an open representation of his troubles as an alcoholic, at a time in which his alcoholism was at a peak. The shattered glass shows broken alcohol bottles, and the subtle footprints illustrative of a long, dark journey.
The swaying poles are also used as a depiction of drunkenness and uncertainty. The colours used in this painting contrast with one another, creating a frenzied atmosphere, exemplifying the same notion of an incredibly difficult ongoing adversity, and the strains in coping. Another strategy used by Pollock in order to convey different psychological states was the colors that he used to establish the tone and mood of his work. Vibrant colors often projected vitality and happiness, tones of red would exude anger and/or anxiety, and dark, dull colors portrayed sadness or emptiness.
The emotions that Pollock would emanate through his paintings also exemplified psychiatric states such as depression or anxiety, or a lost or poor sense of self, reflecting what he endured as a result of his troubles. Pollock was a troubled man and his pain, agony and hardships all showed in his artworks through this tone and mood. He used his painting as the ultimate outlet for this pain, which is the reason for his deep focus and passion for his work. He would absorb all of his concentration into his artwork to provide a way of releasing his troubles or distracting himself from them.
Jackson’s artwork was an expression of his troubles and the inevitable emotions that he experienced as consequence of these troubles, and he used painting to convey these emotions and as an outlet for the hardships endured. His artworks had deep-set psychological and psychiatric meanings and an audience can perceive his personal feelings, and is able to empathize through the tone of the artworks. His abstractions became a focal point in the abstract expressionism movement and had a major influence in expressionist art worldwide.