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Jackson Pollock, Autumn Rhythm, 1950

31 Jul

After World War II, Abstract Expressionism began to take hold on the American art scene with Jackson Pollock as its champion. It finally seemed as if Pollock’s art was “America’s triumphant catching-up with the great modern tradition” of Paris. While many authors and critics point to Pollock’s style as the contributor to the rise of Abstract Expressionism, it is also important to take postwar American culture into consideration when thinking about Pollock and his status as an American hero. Pollock’s hyper-masculine persona and his status as a hero fit the needs of postwar America and made him the champion of Abstract Expressionism.

Autumn Rhythm became known as one of Pollock’s more famous drip paintings because of its commanding large presences of black, white, and tan. Large in scale, the painting seems to be its own life force as it requires interaction from the viewer. Because there was no representation, the work is timeless allowing for viewers to connect readily with it and not feel alienated. In a time when America was recovering from a terrible war and gender and sexual identity was being tested and shaken, a painting like Autumn Rhythm would be a comfort to the viewer as they are a very simple expression of a collective thought shared by Americans. Pollock is taking on the role of American hero by looking inward to find an identity that can be expressed and shared by all.

By laying the canvas on the floor, Pollock was given unlimited access to the canvas and a lot of freedom of movement. Pollock found it satisfactory to walk around and stand over the canvas. He also felt that pouring technique was extremely liberating in that everything from his unconsciousness (his life, his beliefs, his feelings) was freed onto the canvas. As Pollock began to produce more and more drip paintings, they began to grow in size to the point where they were confrontational with the viewer.

At the end of World War II, there was a void in American culture that no soldier or politician was able to fill. America needed a cultural hero and they found it in the avant-garde artist, Jackson Pollock. Pollock filled America’s requirements of a hero because he remained true to his American West roots and allowed them to carry through to his art. Pollock’s hyper-masculine performances were his way of proving that his art and career was not effeminate and that he could fit into the American postwar “Marlboro Man’ ideal of masculinity. The massive scale of many if his drip paintings was associated with Pollock’s masculine assertiveness and his status as an American hero.