MOMA has an excellent retrospective on Jackson Pollock. It clearly articulates the path that he took to the drip paintings that he is so famous for and that can be bewildering on first glance.
Pollock struggled with alcoholism throughout his life (leading to his eventual death in a car accident). His attempt to treat it with different forms of psychotherapy led to a fascination with visualizing pure emotional concepts on canvas.
He started by drawing heavily from existing symbology, using snakes or other symbols to hint at complex emotions. These painting were done using traditional painting methods, in this case he is using fire:
Next, he began to add complexity by adding a “screen” to his paintings. Pollock would paint the picture he wanted to show using symbols and then would draw lines all over it obscuring the underlying image. In my opinion, to symbolize how we as humans see and feel emotions: through a screen of confusion.
This led him to to experiment with directly squeezing paint onto the canvas and at the same time abandoning symbology in favor of creating an entirely emotional appeal. In this example, Pollock captures the essence of an East Hampton sunrise:
Finally, he moved on to an even simpler form of painting: “Drip Painting”. He created paintings on enormous canvases by swinging a stick or a brush in carefully controlled, although seemingly chaotic, motions. The result is as much a study of the skill of painting itself as it is a representation of how complex and varied human emotions, interactions and energy is.
The paint on the canvas connects with your brain and you feel its energy even though you are not quite exactly sure what it is saying. The same way we often feel when dealing with emotions.
The exhibit is definitely worth checking out (through May 1). MOMA does an excellent job of arranging the exhibit in a simple chronological way that really conveys the story of Pollock’s life.