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The turning point in Pollock’s career was the mid-1940s. Two significant events occurred in 1945: his marriage to fellow artist Lee Krasner and their move to a house in the countryside in East Hampton. It was in the studio that they set up in the barn that Pollock first began pouring paint, either straight out of the can or with sticks and hardened brushes, directly onto a canvas placed on the floor. In an interview he justified his unusual method of painting by saying that ‘the modern painter cannot express this age, the airplane, the atom bomb, the radio, in the old forms of the Renaissance or of any other past culture’.1 Pollock felt that his painting technique reflected not only the ‘inner world’ of the unconscious but also the cultural experience of the time he was living in.2 Unexpectedly, to express these things, he felt compelled to move away from figurative art. As he remarked in 1949: ‘I try to stay away from any recognisable image; if it creeps in, I try to do away with it . . . to let the painting come through. I don't let the image carry the painting . . . It's extra cargo and unnecessary.’3 It was important that the meaning of the art work should not be carried by any recognisable image, as this was something extraneous to the medium of painting itself: ‘Experience of our age in terms of painting – not an illustration of but the equivalent: concentrated, fluid.’4 To express the modern age, painting would have to be equal to that age – not to illustrate it through an image but to participate in the intensity and fluidity of modern society through the very manner in which the painting was produced.

Although Pollock rejected many of the traditional methods of artistic control over his painting, preferring to pour, dribble, fling and pool paint onto the canvas, the effect is often staggering and incredibly beautiful. In the ‘classic’ pictures of the period 1947–50, such as One: Number 31, 1950 the black, white, brown, and blue-green arcs of flung paint on unprimed canvas seem to cartwheel before the viewer’s eyes in a majestic dance of colour. Neither a nihilistic statement nor a ‘paint pot flung in the public's face,’ Pollock used the effects of gravity, liquidity of materials, and the collisions between paint and canvas to show the viewer how oil paint behaves when it is pooled, what enamel looks like when it is thrown onto different kinds of surfaces – either dry paint, wet paint or unprimed canvas. Similarly, in his smaller scale enamel on paper works, such as Number 12, 1949 we are directly confronted by the vivid, shiny physicality of the enamel, as well as the extraordinary effects of puckering, marbling, puddling and interlacing of paint in all its raw beauty. In other words, he allowed the materials to speak their own language. As the traces of gravity, liquidity, and fortuitous occurrences appear to have taken place with a minimum intervention of the artist, the painting has what Pollock claimed it should: ‘a life of its own.’5
anthony white
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