No. 5, 1948 by Jackson Pollock
Episode #10 of the course “Most famous paintings of all time”
Type: oil on fiberboard
Dimensions: 2.4 m × 1.2 m (8 ft × 4 ft)
Location: Private collection, New York
A bird-nest-like depiction of chaos and a prime example of abstract expressionism, Jackson Pollock’s No. 5, 1948 has become one of the most recognizable paintings by a 20th century American. Painted during his “drip period,” Pollock was using new techniques to express emotions with colors and lines. Controversial but seen as desirable, the drip paintings caught the eye of new art collectors who were looking for the most modern thing available. By subverting classical norms with his outlandish style, Pollock showed that the thought behind his painting was as valuable as the effort he exerted for it.
Like No. 5, 1948, all of Pollock’s drip period paintings were created by laying a piece of fiberboard on the floor to use as a canvas, giving the artist the greatest number of angles and range of motion to splash, smear, splatter, drip, fling, and pour his paints into an image. In No. 5, 1948 specifically, viewers can see Pollock’s use of black, white, grey, red, and yellow overlapping in layers that interweave and cover the entire surface area. The movement is constant, pooling in larger spots and exploding in multiple directions at once. Although the colors are simple, the directions and conscious way in which Pollock applied them creates an emotional flow through the lines. Recently, scholars have shown that Pollock’s angles and implied motions display mathematical precision.
When the painting was first purchased and being moved to its owner, it was damaged when “a piece” of the paint fell off. Pollock repaired the painting before sending it on its way, commenting, “He’ll never know. No one knows how to interpret my work.” The painting suffered additional damage, and the owner requested further repairs. Instead, Pollock repainted No. 5, 1948 from scratch, creating a second piece that was equally, if not more so, admired by viewers.
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