Jackson Pollock (American, 1912–1956),
oil and aluminum paint on canvas, 43½ x 34, 110.49 x 86.36 cm
Gift of Peggy Guggenheim, 1949.164
After an itinerant childhood spent in southern California and Arizona, Pollock moved to New York to study art. Enrolling at the Art Students League, he became a student and friend of Thomas Hart Benton, whose romantic and rhythmic sensibilities remained influential long after Pollock dismissed his mentor's Regionalist subject matter as narrow and parochial. By the early 1940s, Pollock, along with such other New York artists as Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb, pioneered a semi-abstract style based on primitive and classical myths and symbols. Unified by the psychoanalytical theories of Carl Jung, they believed their art could communicate an understanding shared by all peoples throughout time — a universal, "collective unconscious." Later, Pollock referred to mythology more generally. Like the Surrealists, he tried to draw "automatically" — spontaneously from internal impulses.
Pollock made his first revolutionary, Abstract Expressionist "drip" paintings in 1947. Rare evidence of an artist's decisive moment, Galaxy was one of the first canvases that Pollock took off the easel and laid on the floor and, with deliberate, intuitive gestures, veiled an existing image with colorful skeins of poured paint. His energetic new compositions were completely abstract and "all-over" — that is, painted without reference to perspective depth or spatial orientation. In addition to introducing the artist's innovative dripping and spattering techniques, Galaxy reveals Pollock's use of such unorthodox materials as sand and industrial aluminum paint, a kind of experimentation earlier encouraged by Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros.
In the following years, Pollock's works became larger, the canvas clearly an arena in which the spontaneous act of creation was recorded. As his ruggedly individual Abstract Expressionism was recognized as an important American contribution to the international avant-garde, Pollock's notoriety as art's "wild one" grew. A fitful genius given to bouts of depression and alcoholism, Pollock was America's best-known contemporary artist at the time of his fatal automobile crash in 1956.