Breaking It Up


"At a certain moment the canvas began to appear to one American painter after another as an arena in which to act - rather than a space in which to reproduce, redesign, analyze or express an object, actual or imagined. What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event." - Harold Rosenberg in The American Action Painters
Jackson Pollock, Cathedral, 1947.











After WWII

United States
  • Left in ruins - few resources to rebuild or get "back to life"
  • Housing and construction boom nurtered by GI returns
  • Many countries remained politically divided
  • Country invigorated by new found strength
  • Numerous avant-garde artists had immigrated to the U.S.
  • Sense of artistic community blossoms in NY
The Kissing Sailor, or
"The Selective Blindness of Rape Culture"
Alfred Eisenstaedt, V.J. Day, 1945.











Post WWII Suburban Ranch Home











Spring 1945 "A Problem for Critics"
exhibition at the Art of This Century Gallery
Included works by: Arshile Gorky, Joan Miro, Adolph Gottleib and Mark Rothko, Hans Hofmann, and Jackson Pollock
Critics met Peggy Guggenheim's challenge by naming the new movement "Abstract Expressionism"
Jackson Pollock, Moon Woman, 1942.






















Abstract Expressionism = term used to describe a wide variety of work produced in New York
between 1940 and 1960
The name acknowledges, two important strains of modern art:
Abstraction = emphasized a non-representational, formalist approach
Expressionism = sought emotional responses from both the artist and the viewer
Lee Krasner, Cornucopia, 1958.











The Irascibles

"The Irascibles" from 1950, published in Life Magazine, January 15, 1951.


From left to right seated:  Theodoros Stamos, Jimmy Ernst, Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman, James Brooks, Mark Rothko;
Standing:  Richard Pousette-Dart, William Baziotes, Willem de Kooning, Adolph Gottlieb, Ad Reinhardt, Hedda Sterne, Clyfford Still, Robert Motherwell, Bradley Walker Tomlin











Twilight Sounds

Grace Hartigan, Autumn Harvest, 1959.
Norman Lewis, Twilight Sounds, 1947.











no 2

Characteristics of the New York School:

  • Interest in Surrealist automatist techniques
  • Influenced by the Mexican muralists
  • "Modern Man" = notion that man is fundamentally irrational and driven by unknowable forces from within and without
  • Participated in the Federal Art Project
  • Insisted on the individual worth of each of their expressions
Clyfford Still, 1947-R, No. 2, 1947.











Going West
Thomas Hart Benton, Palisades, from the series American Historical Epic. 1919 - 1924.

Jackson Pollock, Going West, c. 1934 - 1935.











Hans Namuth, Jackson Pollock, 1950.










"The most powerful painter in contemporary America and the only one who promises to be a major one is a Gothic, morbid, and extreme disciple of Picasso's Cubism and Miró's post-Cubism, tinctured also with Kandinsky and surrealist inspiration. His name is Jackson Pollock." - Clement Greenberg in 1947


Life Magasin 8/8/1949

August 8, 1949 issue of Life Magazine










Moon Woman

Male and Female

Jackson Pollock, Moon Woman, 1942.
Jackson Pollock, Male and Female, c. 1942.









Pollock in front of blank canvas

Pollock standing in front of blank canvas for Mural












Jackson Pollock, Mural, 1943. 8' X 19'.


"Every so often, a painter has to destroy painting. Cezanne did it, Picasso did it with Cubism. Then Pollock did it.
He busted our idea of a picture all to hell. Then there could be new paintings again." - Willem De Kooning











Peggy Guggenheim with Jackson Pollock standing in front of Mural with her dogs, 1943.






















Consider that these two American works were made in 1948 and purchased by MoMA in 1949.
Andrew Wyeth, Christina's World, 1948.
Jackson Pollock, Number 1 A, 1948.











Number 1

Jackson Pollock, Number 1, 1949.





















  • Painted horizontally, on the floor
Pollock working
  • Used house paint and sticks instead of traditional artist's materials
  • Works intuitively with an automatist technique
automatism = technique whereby the usual intellectual control of the artist over the brush is foregone. The artist's aim is to allow the subconscious to create the artwork without rational reference.
  • Considers space in a completely new way
  • Rejects Renaissance perspective
  • All-over composition
  • Painted gestures move across the picture plane instead of attempting the illusion of moving through it
  • The painter painting becomes the painting's subject
Jackson Pollock at work, 1950
"He transformed the obligation for social relevance, a pervasive current between the wars, into an unrelenting moral commitment to a search for the self." - Jonathan Fineberg





















Pollock's barn studio floor, preserved











"My opinion is that new needs need new techniques…the modern painter cannot express his age, the airplane, the atom bomb, the radio in the old forms of the Renaissance…the modern artist is living in a mechanical age…working and expressing an inner world - in other words, expressing the energy, the motion, and other inner forces." - Jackson Pollock

Construction with Boiled Beans

Autumn rhythm

Salvador Dali, Consruction with Boiled Beans, 1936.
Jackson Pollock, Autumn Rhythm (Number 30), 1950.