At the height of his fame and renown as the most famous living American artist, Pollock radically altered his abstract "drip" method of painting to a more linear style that invoked earlier totemic imagery. As early as 1941, Pollock incorporated symbols from Native American folklore and legends presented in artifacts showcased in exhibitions held in New York at the time. Abstract Expressionists enthused about the pictographic quality of the Native American images of fertility, rebirth, and exorcism but for Pollock, the ritualistic aspect of the shaman's work was potently alluring. It has been often said that Pollock's approach to painting, as scholars would note, is similar to that of a shaman, a channeler of psychic and physical energies through movement, using intuition rather than logical deduction to enable truth and healing. This return to figuration in the 1950s for the artist was a forceful push to move beyond the style he was becoming famous for, and allowed him to keep searching for new expression. And while Pollock does conjure up early imagery in the late works, the fluidity and elegance of the gestures found in these works appear surprisingly fresh.
An intriguing example of these late works is Eye-Scape. The title recalls Matta's unique reference of his own paintings as "in-scapes". This term refers to the artist's representation of an internal landscape of sorts, where personal iconography, mental states of being, and anthropomorphic forms take on primary importance. While Pollock never embraced Surrealism, he was exposed to its tenets of tapping the unconscious to create a wellspring of imagery and dismissal of "retinal art." The fertile soil of the creative unconscious was something Pollock instinctively grasped. He was proud of his roots in the West, and mythologized his kinship with nature and contact with indigenous Native Americans during his childhood. Their rituals and practices, such as Navajo sand painting, were sacred acts of image-making that elevated the status of the artist as hero/healer and emphasized the artist's melding with his materials/tools so that there was a continuous flow of energy from the artist's hand to the medium, and ultimately to the picture. The balletic grace of Pollock's movements that is singularly captured in the photographs and films by Hans Namuth reveals Pollock's confidence of achieving unity with the medium, therefore ensuring the pictorial integrity of the work.
Around the same time, Pollock experimented with uncut rolls of unprimed canvas whereby the format resembled Far Eastern scroll painting, which allowed him to work in a serial fashion without the consciousness of the edge. The thinned down black paint would be absorbed into the fabric and sometimes have a stained effect. He further delved into working on various papers, first on rice paper given to him by Tony Smith and later with specially made paper by a local artisan named Douglass Howell who made paper for the collagist Anne Ryan. Pollock's approach to the paper is calligraphic where half-submerged symbols would evocatively float on the surface but other times, the drips, stains, and swooshes of subtle color stained the canvas to a marvelous effect. Every mark and movement of the medium, whether purposeful or accidental, incited Pollock to create figurative shapes redolent of Jungian archetypes. Eye-Scape offers tantalizing clues as to the identification and meaning of these evocative shapes, for example, the figure on the right bears a shadow of resemblance to the classic Native American figure of Kokopelli, the flute player who brings fruitfulness to women, a symbol of fertility. Ovoid shapes repeated throughout the canvas emphasize fullness and potential. Colors bleed into each other and glow like orbs rotating in space. In the late works, such as this one, a pronounced symmetry grows out of the composition where the images are almost bifurcated and yet still are connected. This is most evident in his most well-known late work, Portrait and Dream of 1953, where a self-portrait is shown opposite a melange of operatic arcs and slashes.
The stained effect of thinned paint on unprimed canvas was a harbinger of the new developments in American painting, where younger artists such as Helen Frankenthaler adopted this model of painting.