Jackson Pollock is the most celebrated, and controversial, American artist of the twentieth century.

As early as the late 1930's, in an experimental workshop led by Siqueiros, Pollock had experimented with pouring and spattering liquid enamel paint. By the 1940's, this kind of free-form creativity had taken on a new meaning, especially in the context of the Surrealists' emphasis on cursively loose, heedlessly “automatic” drawing as a route to the liberation of unconscious imagery. At first, near the end of 1947, Pollock seems to have used poured lines of paint as a way to elaborate on compositions previously painted with a brush or to efface early layers of imagery. Then he began to use pouring and dripping -with sticks of dried-out brushes, or from holes punctured directly in cans of paint – as the primary method of creating a composition. Laying out his canvases on the floor of his barn studio, he worked on them from all sides, creating edge-to-edge interlaces of looping lines, overlaid and underpinned with fields of poured enamel paint, sometimes articulated with accents of oil pigment squeezed directly from the tube, and frequently punctuated with seemingly accidental effects of puddling and spattering. He often worked with the unconventional medium of aluminum paint and included a complex range of color accents, from orange and yellow to teal and green. With these variations and wide differences in the density and dynamism of the layers of paint, he created a broad gamut of effects, from subtle tonalism to near-garish decorativeness, and from airy delicacy to congested turbulence. The paintings seemed to many to project an apocalyptic, fragmenting violence in their break with tradition and in their apparently reckless spontaneity. But they could also evoke a filigreed fragility and a seamlessly unified, lyrical sense of dancing energy.

The “allover” abstractions he created in the late 1940's – by pouring, dripping, or flinging paint onto canvases laid on the floor – exploded the traditions of picture-making and opened up freedoms for artists of all kinds. His innovations helped establish a new international prestige for American art, and their influence has been felt not just in painting but throughout the new forms of sculpture and performance art that arose after him. In his lifetime, Pollock gained a notorious celebrity as a denim-clothed embodiment of avant-garde provocation. Then his violent death, in an auto crash at the age of forty-four, helped lend his life – often troubled by emotional difficulties and alcoholism – an added aura of romantic myth.

ã 1998 The Museum of Modern Art, New York