During the 1940s, Jackson Pollock had embraced abstraction and the non-objective but he was still searching. His search for a definitive or signature expression/style would find its resolution when he left the easel and rolled his canvases out on the floor raw and without stretcher bars. Approaching his blank canvas (the Tabula Rasa) rolled out on the floor enabled Pollock to work all four edges by walking around the canvas. But probably the epiphany for Pollock would be his ability to now step into the canvas—literally! Approaching the canvas stretched and placed vertically on an easel or on the wall meant Pollock could only go so far with his personal immersion into his work. But rolling the canvas out on the floor horizontally provided Pollock with the desired aspect of being “in” the work. Pollock stated the following about the horizontal approach to the canvas: “On the floor I am more at ease, I feel nearer, more a part of the painting, since this way I can walk around it, work from the four sides and literally be ‘in’ the painting.”
A very curious outcome of working with the canvas on the floor is the artist realized he didn’t need to touch the brush to the canvas’ surface. Pollock felt he could translate his inner feelings more directly by way of a “choreography of movement” a few inches or more above the actual surface and let gravity and the hard, ungiving floor play a role in the mark-making process. The artist vocalized his discovery of a curious choreography of expressively moving the paint across the canvas in the following 1947 statement: “When I am in my painting, I’m not aware of what I’m doing. It is only after a sort of ‘get acquainted’ period that I see what I have been about. I have no fears about making changes, destroying the image, etc., because the painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through. It is only when I lose contact with the painting that the result is a mess. Otherwise there is pure harmony, an easy give and take, and the painting comes out well.”
What are your thoughts on Pollock’s decision to leave the vertical aspect of the painter’s easel behind and work with the canvas horizontal on the floor?
Photograph of Jackson Pollock and wife Lee Krasner in his Hampton studio