A Painter’s Mind: Pollock’s
Any visual can provoke humans to feel and interpret things differently. Visuals can include more than simple photographs; they can also be movie scenes, sculptures, and even paintings. Jackson Pollock for example created many different paintings that people strived to comprehend, one iconic piece of his being Lavender Mist, as seen in Figure 1. This piece in particular, also called Number 1, 1950, captivated a certain presence and power that his other pieces did not. It provoked emotions and opinions by critics that will be analyzed further in the essay. These feelings came about due to Pollock’s new creative technique, abstract expressionism, which caused many to attempt an evaluation of the mindset behind the work. The mind of Pollock and how his significance came about is what I desire to delve further into by examining one of his most famous works. The controversy over Pollock’s Lavender Mist is all due to Pollock’s mental state during its creation, the timing and analysis of the work, and others’ reaction to it.
The Mental State
Pollock had quite the tortured childhood psychologically that led him to be the sort of angered and confusing artist he was. His father was constantly preoccupied financially, whilst his mother was quite neglectful. This dynamic led to a sense of loneliness and a desire to feel reassured through his various growing phobias. These growing tendences can be described in the quote, “Obviously, the seeds of Pollock’s adult personality can be seen in these early years: his father’s failure to provide an adequate model of success and availability… his mother’s emotional unavailability and narcissism” (Hagman, 2010, p. 130)… These two vital roles in his mental development had failed him. His father could not hold a steady job and his mother could not support his feelings, thus driving Pollock in his later artistic years to not have a full sense of who he was, as a person or a painter. He dealt with this through alcoholism, rage, and an inability to receive caring gestures from anyone. These emotions bled into his artistry and seeped into the newfound technique of his “drip” paintings. Lavender Mist beholds a powerful sense of coping through anger, which can be further explored in the creation of his work (Hagman, 2010, p. 129-130).
Furthermore, the mental rage Pollock kept inside manifested itself through Lavender Mist’s development as an experiment into a new time period for Pollock’s art life. Pollock experienced a breakthrough in his artwork between 1947 and 1950 and began creating artwork called abstract expressionism. He lived in Long Island in a small house from 1945 on where he drew inspiration from nearby creeks and marshes, and had a barn where he created Lavender Mist. He decided to toss, drip, and splatter paint while walking around this large canvas and felt more connected to his work. His paintings can be described in the quote,
Rather, the drip paintings seem to exist in a single active moment, a moment of time stretched beyond the limits of actually perceived time so that individual details of that moment may be examined in a state not replicated in the natural world (Mahin, 2007, p. 48).
The interpretation of his more abstract works can become vexing to process, so Mahin describes them as paintings that expand over all of time rather than a particular time period. Pollock creates with raw emotion and without thought, therefore without effort to convey a particular representation. This new innovation in the art world caused true immersion rather than simply seeing a visual for what it is at face value. His paintings became something unnatural and vivid with a powerful presence that led many to attempt to answer the question: what was the meaning behind Pollock’s new works? (Jackson Pollock, 2020).
A painting such as Lavender Mist holds a much larger impact than a photograph, and it leaves a potent aroma of power unlike Pollock’s other works. The presence of hegemony radiates from this piece by its means of dominating his other works; from his early cubism to later representational pieces, his stylistic drip paintings made a profound impact amongst critics and society. Lavender Mist utilizes pathos by allowing others to truly submerge into an abstract mindset of what could be rather than what is. There is a sense of vulnerability in the chaotic linework that resonates with humans more than a photograph ever could. A photograph can only show something for how it is portrayed in an instance, whereas a painting can represent time abundant, and everything or nothing both simultaneously. A painting is a creation of the mind and it allows interpretation in the eye of the beholder, whether that interpretation is intentional or unintentional by the artist.
Deeper Visual Analysis
In addition to its bold presence, this painting is a visual with many puzzle pieces of analysis that work together such as audience, context, tone, arrangement, and more. The audience addressed is anyone with a taste for art, or anyone in general who feels a desire to take up the challenge of interpreting Pollock’s work. The large scale piece comes in at a whopping 87 by 118 inches, and is located in the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. The context and purpose of this piece was Pollock’s pure experimentation with paint, and his desire to feel “one” with his piece, and an immersion within the medium. Pollock did not desire a certain story to be told, rather, he drew inspiration from his surroundings and then created. There is a sort of peaceful tone to the wild look of the work that is possibly derived from the soothing earthy undertones. The color palette includes black and white in stark, jagged lines in the foreground whilst peach, teals, and greys intermingle within the background. There is not much arrangement or structure to the tremendous artwork, which is what makes up its fantastic and intriguing depth.
Also, the shift in Pollock’s artistic career was formulated by Lavender Mist, and has since sparked an electric reaction by society and critics alike. For example, in an analytical article by Michael Leja he addressed the meaning behind Pollocks works in the quote, “He was in no sense illustrating performed ideas, but rather forming, assimilating and testing propositions in representation – whether mental or pictorial” (Leja, 1990, p. 545). He states here that Pollock was not a creator with any purpose behind what he made, rather, he created from experiences and his mind. Pollock was thought by Leja to represent his personality, whether it being subconscious or not. Also, Clement Greenberg was an important art critic of Pollock’s time, and stated that his work “represented a new, authentic American art; a shift in the art world” (Jackson Pollock, 2020). This was most likely due to Pollock’s feature in Life magazine, where the caption read, “Is he the greatest living painter in the United States?” These statements spiraled into an obsession by society with Pollock and all of his abstract works. The amount of interest and fame received by an audience at large would seemingly satisfy an artist’s desires, but Pollock’s mental torment eventually took its toll, and a drunk driving collision ended his life.
Lavender Mist skyrocketed the discussion over Pollock’s work to new heights because of his psychological past, the time period of the painting’s creation, and what others were saying about it. Despite the harsh conditions Pollock grew up in, he persevered to create a name for himself. There is beauty that comes from tragedy, and his hardships drove him to create masterpieces such as Lavender Mist. Throughout the time period of its development, Pollock just desired to be heard and seen by others, whether by intention or not. He fully achieved this through its portrayal of vivid emotion and a sort of power despite a sense of calm. This piece slingshotted his career into what every artist dreams to have, but he allowed the psychological tendencies of alcoholism to consume his life. Despite the feedback from the world around Pollock, there was no longer an impact he felt he could give. However, the world still heard the visual message he left behind through Lavender Mist, the piece that started the tragic and beautiful journey into the painter’s mind.
- Hagman, G. (2010). The Artist’s Mind: A Psychoanalytic Perspective on Creativity, Modern
- Artists. (pp. 128-131). New York, NY: Routledge.
- Jackson Pollock, Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist), 1950. National Gallery of Art, (March 29,
- Leja, M. (1990). Jackson Pollock: Representing the Unconscious. Art History, 13(4), 542-563.
- Mahin, B. (2007). Non-Linear Temporal Constructs and the Loss of Self in Edgard Varese’s
- Octandre, Jackson Pollock’s Lavender Mist, and Robert Penn Warren’s Being Here. Current Issues in Music, 1(1), 48-53.