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The Technique of Action Painting in Jackson Pollock Paintings

In the December 1952 issue of ARTnews, Harold Rosenberg coined the term, “action painting.” The term characterizes artists who first and foremost see the canvas as a space for action. Jackson Pollock is the artist who best illustrates the techniques of action painting.

The bold colors, movement and individuality of Jackson Pollock paintings are recognizable worldwide. His technique of “dripping” paint onto a canvas created a number of famous works that earned him considerable acclaim. Pollock’s paintbrush would dance above the canvas and express his emotions and feelings without having to touch the canvas.

Jackson Pollock paintingsAction painting refers to a style that resembles performance art, whereby the artist freely lets go and unleashes emotion. It is in the performance of action painting that a plot is created by the artist. However, there is no central motif. Action painting tells a story without the use of a central image, merely through action. The painting Lavender Mist, unveiled by Pollock in 1950, is one of the most famous Jackson Pollock paintings. The canvas which is 10 feet wide displays paint that has been dripped and splattered over every inch. Lines of color move in every direction, and the imprint of Pollock’s hands which have been dipped in paint appear at the top right corner of the canvas. The eye frantically attempts to take in the sheer magnitude of the painting and is unable to rest. Because his paintings were created through action, the process of viewing them must also involve an active process.

It is debatable whether action painting is an accurate way to describe the technique that Pollock famously used. The Jackson Pollock paintings do illustrate a technique that was not bound by restrictions of space or convention. Certainly, Pollock’s abstract expressionist style of painting broke many conventions and was heavily influenced by cubism and surrealism. Pollock himself was uninterested in labels or definitions; he simply wanted to authentically and freely express his emotions. When asked about technique he replied, “It doesn’t make much difference how the paint is put on as long as something has been said. Technique is just a means of arriving at a statement.”

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