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Poured Black Shape I

Poured Black Shape I
oil and enamel on canvas
13 x 16 1/4 in. (33 x 41.3 cm.)
Painted circa 1950
Estate of the artist.
Lee Krasner Pollock Estate, East Hampton (bequeathed from the above).
Pollock-Krasner Foundation, New York (bequeathed from the above).
American Contemporary Art Gallery, Munich (acquired from the above, circa 1994); sale, Christie's, New York, 16 May 2001, lot 46.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.
F. V. O'Connor and E. V. Thaw, eds., Jackson Pollock, A Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Drawings, and Other Works, New Haven and London, 1978, vol. 2 (illustrated, p. 112, no. 292).
Munich, American Contemporary Art Gallery, Jackson Pollock, September 1993, p. 11 (illustrated).
Museum Pfalzgalerie Kaiserslautern, Painting of the American Abstract Expressionism, November 1997-January 1998, p. 43 (illustrated).
Museum Mathildenhöhe Darmstadt, Conrad Marca Relli and the Abstract Expressionism, March-April 2000, p. 27 (illustrated).
Museum Aargauer Kunsthaus, Painting as Memory-The Memory of Painting, August-November 2000, p. 214 (illustrated).
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Brought to you by

Max Carter
Max Carter Vice Chairman, 20th and 21st Century Art, Americas

Lot Essay

While some of Jackson Pollock’s most recognizable drip paintings are mural-sized, stretching at times to eighteen feet in length, it is in his smaller, more intimate paintings, which he painted concurrently to these larger works, that the artist demonstrates the remarkable inventiveness of his creative mind. Painted in a flurry of artistic activity in 1950, Poured Black Shape I is one such painting, having been executed at the same time as monumental drip paintings like One, Number 31 and Autumn Rhythm, Number 30. In the present work, Pollock blends vestiges of an earlier style with the power and gravitas of the drip. The work was likely painted on both the easel and the floor, using both traditional oil paints and household enamels. The resonances between these elements is likely what appealed most to Pollock, who was a tireless innovator. Tracing the past and looking forward to the future, the present example is an important work from the beginning of a new era, one in which Pollock would be hailed as the greatest living artist of his generation.

Poured Black Shape I offers up a firsthand account of the innovations taking place in Pollock’s studio in 1950. Painted on a beautiful soft blue ground that is accentuated with yellow petals or blade-like leaves, the painting makes use of two separate visual registers. The first, presumably painted in a more traditional manner using oil paints to delineate the blue background and the yellow forms, elicits strong connections to Pollock’s abstract work of the 1940s. The second, which was painted directly atop the first, bears witness to the genesis of the drip. Using black enamel paint straight from the can, Pollock moved the canvas to the floor and poured on the paint, possibly arcing and tilting the canvas to let the paint run down the surface in thin rivulets and streams. He then used a brush to paint similar lines that taper downward off of the central black mass. The effect is unique, hinting at figuration whilst staying true to the abstraction of the drip. Other techniques are at play here as well, such as the wet-on-wet application, visible in the heavily-impastoed area of white pigment in the lower left. This produces a beautiful, ethereal wavering line that feels alive with the artist’s hand. One can also see that Pollock dripped large loops of thinned-down enamel paint before obliterating them with the black (this is barely discernible beneath the black paint). Overall, the painting offers up a window into the profound new developments taking place in Pollock’s work during this seminal year.

Although he worked in relative obscurity throughout the 1930s and into the early ‘40s, by the year 1950, Pollock had experienced a meteoric rise to international acclaim. It was in 1950 that Hans Namuth produced his famous series of photographs that documented Pollock at work in his lofty barn studio in Springs, on Long Island, and he returned to make the iconic film of Pollock painting on glass later that fall. A year earlier, Life Magazine had published a two-page centerfold of the artist standing in front of an enormous drip painting, with the caption reading “Jackson Pollock: Is He the Greatest Living Painter in the United States?”

Indeed, 1950 was a fertile, highly productive year for Pollock, one in which his drip paintings reached a new level of confidence and maturity. In June of 1950, he showed several drip paintings in the 25th Venice Biennale. This was paired with a solo exhibit at the Museo Correr in the Piazza San Marco, where he showed twenty paintings from Peggy Guggenheim’s collection. Back in New York, the year would culminate in a fifth solo show at Betty Parsons Gallery that November. As if his work of that year had not been convincing enough, Pollock demonstrated yet more evidence, showing an astonishing thirty-two drip paintings, and causing critics to stand up and take note. Writing in ARTnews that December, the artist and erstwhile critic Robert Goodnough wrote of the “great, open black rhythms that dance in disturbing degrees of intensity, ecstatically energizing the powerful image in an almost hypnotic way” (R. Goodnough, “Reviews,” ARTnews December 1950, p. 47).

In these paintings, Pollock used the end of his brush, sticks, and sometimes a syringe to drip and drizzle the enamel paint, slowly building up the painting’s surface to a degree of complexity and finesse. Placing the canvas directly on the floor of his studio, he would walk around, over, and into the painting, using the sticks and brushes to let the paint fall onto the raw sheet. Embracing chance and the effects of gravity, Pollock surrendered his mind and body to be, as he said, “literally in the painting.”

In some of his drip paintings, Pollock would at times fill in the loops with flat areas of color, as in Summertime No. 9A (1948; Tate Modern, London) and Number 2 (1951; Artizon Museum, Tokyo). He also experimented with painted backgrounds that blotted out wide passages of the tangled paint, choosing instead to surround the contours of the loops and twists with broad areas of flat color. In Number 7 (Out of the Web) (1949; Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart), he chiseled out flat areas of semi-abstract shapes, letting those play off against the tangled network of lines. He explored this notion even further with a series of “Cut-Outs” he made in 1948, in which a standing figure is delineated against the dripped background. These paintings, made concurrently to the traditional "drips," demonstrate Pollock at his most inventive, toying with formalism and disrupting the “opticality” of the painting’s surface. With its central black mass of dripped and splattered paint, the mechanics at play in Poured Black Shape I seem to further these investigations, pairing the pioneering achievements of the drip with new challenges and techniques.

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