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Blue Poles

Blue Poles remains to be somewhat controversial. Here is the story:

Blue Poles was first showcased at Pollock's solo exhibition at the Sidney Janis Gallery in November of 1952, where it was titled Number 11, 1952.

Jackson Pollock's Blue Poles, 1952
Blue Poles, 1952

The date of the painting has frequently and mistakenly been given as 1953. It is clear from the inscription in the bottom left-hand corner of the painting that Pollock initially dated it '53', and then changed the '3' to a '2'.

The creation of Blue Poles attracted much attention following the publication of an article by Stanley P. Friedman in the New York Magazine in 1973. He reported that he had been told by Tony Smith, a close friend of Pollock that he himself had initially painted on the canvas that subsequently became Blue Poles. Smith told Friedman that he visited Pollock early in 1952 and in a state of drunkenness, they began to paint.

Tony Smith also told Friedman of another visit shortly after, in the company of Barnett Newman. He said that Newman was the one who added the ‘poles’ to the canvas.

Friedman reported that when Lee Krasner Pollock confronted Newman with this story, Newman denied that he had had anything to do with the ‘poles’, which are clearly a late development in the painting.

The matter did not rest after the magazine published a letter by Thomas B. Hess in their next issue where he emphatically claimed Pollock had no help whatsoever.

In January 1974, a meeting was held to carefully examine the painting and its conclusions found that Smith and Newman’s involvement was non-existent.

It also suggests that Pollock simply painted over the initial paints when he was working on this particular piece and the other paints were simply covered up.

The conclusions also found just how the painting came to be about.

It seems Pollock started with his canvas spread on the floor, as with all his other paintings. When the first layer of paint was dry the un-stretched canvas was put up on the wall by tacking it along the top edge to a beam that ran along the wall of the studio where more paint was added. Then the canvas was back the floor.

Pollock then left the canvas alone for quite some time. When he next worked on the painting, having decided to paint in the blue poles, it can be seen how the blue paint rides over the thick ridges of the earlier paint layers without any blurring, an indication they were quite dry by that time.

Clearly, it took time for this to finally come through…we are each a judge as to how it really came about.


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