The frenetic, tangled skeins of ink that explode across the surface of the present work pulse against the edges of the paper in a kinetic maelstrom of energy, poised to erupt into the masterpieces of the late 1940s. Upon close inspection, organic forms and shadows of figures begin to emerge from the dense network of interlaced dashes and scores, coming to the fore without fully resolving into recognizable figures. Lines, slashes, and drips of brightly colored ink battle with aureoles of negative space, creating layers of accretion that vie against one another for supremacy. Across the composition, Pollock raked a stylus across the wet surface, incising scrapes and scratches that reveal layers of color or the paper underneath, further disrupting the figure-ground relationship. Of the present work, Bernice Rose writes: “Through the early forties Pollock’s drawings had moved toward more freely inventive biomorphic form and greater unity of morphologically inventive creatures. In this drawing the composition is given over to a highly fantasized figurescape in which it is difficult to distinguish human from animal forms or plants from creatures, as Pollock introduces the scintillation of nervous spatters, coloristic linear accents, and an overlay of abstract linear patterning (the sgraffito) – the essential invention of his visual field – to bury the underlying figures.” (Exh. Cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art (and travelling), Jackson Pollock: Works on Paper, 1968, p. 50) Although it would be years before Pollock inverted the picture plane, thereby transforming the surface of a painting from the Renaissance notion of a ‘window into a world’ into a performative arena, this initial complication of figure-ground relationship underscores Pollock’s relentless drive to reinvent his artistic practice.
Pollock’s output from the early and mid-1940s illustrates the trajectory of the artist’s automatic technique – from dreamy vistas to frenzied murals. Indeed, the abstract figures that dance across the surface of Untitled flirt with representation, some conjuring prehistoric creatures, others alluding to alien lifeforms. The amoeba-like splatters that skid over daubs of fuchsia and spangles of deep teal call to mind the preternatural dreamscapes of Joan Miró and Arshile Gorky, while simultaneously foreshadowing the whiplash palimpsests of the late 1940s and 1950s. Ribcages of black ink weave in and around luscious swaths of color while undulating spines arch across the architectonic structure of incised sgraffito. Bernice Rose writes: “Although clues to an allover composition can be found in the scattered pictographic composition of earlier drawings, it is here that Pollock makes the transition from early to late structure; he consolidates the isolated forms, committing himself to the allover style, even exploring the particular linear configuration of the drip works…on this small scale it became possible to envision a fluid linear movement and a uniform visual effect through the whole of a composition – to practice it, in effect – and establish the composition and movement for later, larger works.” (Exh. Cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art (and travelling), Jackson Pollock: Works on Paper, 1968, p. 17)
In addition to the chimerical aesthetic borrowed from his Surrealist peers, Pollock also channeled a desire to express an innermost and repressed self; he had entered Jungian analysis in 1939 to combat his alcoholism and would delve into the deepest recesses of his mind to produce numerous Surrealist-inspired paintings and drawings. Pollock proved that if art was defined by the artist, then the individual’s subconscious and instincts directly determined the technique, composition and content of the art; he revolutionized easel painting by asserting that material and medium could fundamentally replace subject matter in painting. Kirk Varnedoe writes: "'How?' would take over from 'What?' as the prime point of genesis. Changing his self-awareness from a search for buried icons or totems to a reliance on more pragmatic instincts about how it felt best to work, Pollock would unblock the way to a fundamentally personal, original art. And a great deal more.” (Kirk Varnedoe in Exh. Cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art, Jackson Pollock, 1998, p. 48) Fearlessly forging his own path within an ever-evolving art historical canon and effortlessly embodying the protean myth of artist as tortured and misunderstood hero and genius, Pollock is arguably one of the most profoundly original artists in the history of art, having created an entirely new vernacular that challenged the traditional balances between figure and ground, abstraction and representation, content and technique. Here, automatism subverts representation, dominating the surface with an arresting and infinitely engrossing allover composition of aesthetic control coupled with pure physical abandon.
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