Formless and Void: Jackson Polluck's Crying Creation

One: Number 31, 1950 - Jackson Pollock

Jackson Pollock painted One: Number 31, 1950 in the years following the horrors of WWII. At a time when many people were confused and unable to make sense of the world, the art community of New York City developed a response known as Abstract Expressionism. This movement broke away from the traditional mold of art and expressed the angst of post-war America. Pollock, among others, set the tone of this movement. Like many Abstract Expressionists, he sought to access his psyche while painting, and pour out its expressions and rhythms onto a canvas. Thus, with aggressive strokes and delicate swirls, Pollock expressed the horrors of the modern age, his own torments, and the desired peace that he experienced in nature.

Although Pollock’s work was abstract, people like Craig Greenberg and art collector Ben Heller helped to reveal the order within his art. In an interview with Heller, he recalls visiting Pollock and talking with him about his piece, One. Heller said, “(W)e sat out on the grass on the lawn behind the house and if you looked out there and you (saw) the stars and the leaves and the grasses, or you (went) to the ocean and (saw) the waves curling up… you (could) see, in a funny way, Jackson's work.”    

As indicated by Heller, Pollock was an artist intrigued with nature. Even the materials and paint pigments that Pollock chose flowed from this fascination. In a film about Pollock directed by Hans Namuth, Pollock mentioned using elements such as “sand, broken glass, pebbles, string, (and) nails” in his artwork.  In One: Number 31, 1950, Pollock applies yet another strange technique known as “drip painting.” This highly criticized technique involved laying a canvas on the floor then dripping, pouring, and splashing paint onto it with sticks and brushes. Although unorthodox, it was this technique that gave pieces like One a unique depth and balance.

One is best described as a weave of black, brown, gray, white, and green lines and splotches. At the center of the painting, Pollock winds these colors together as thin and erratic pours. But moving out towards the corners, his strokes become thicker, spacious, and less tangled. At the fringes of the painting, his splattered constellations of dark paint fade into empty space.

Some may view this piece and wonder, “What is this?” But I think this is the wrong question to ask. Pollock himself is famous for saying, “Technique is just a means of arriving at a statement.” So the question really ought to be, “What statement is Pollock seeking to make?” At the time of painting One: Number 31, 1950, Pollock told Heller that he felt “at one with nature.” Perhaps through this painting, Pollock was not only expressing his own momentary peace with nature, but the lasting peace that all desire while in the throes of a broken and chaotic world. It seems therefore that critics of Pollock can relate more to this work than they realize. All they must do is experience the common pains and confusions of life which naturally brew a desire for a peace that often resides in a starry night sky, a breaking wave, or a thick and tangled forest. With one painting, Pollock seems to not only express the very essence of Abstract Expressionism and post-war America, but the screaming desire of all creation: an escape from this violent, broken world into one of lasting peace and order.