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Jackson Pollock's Lavender Mist: A Masterpiece of Abstract Expressionism

Housed at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, Lavender Mist is one of several works produced by Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) when he was at the height of his “action painting” technique. Pollock was the first notable artist to completely break away from the brush-palette-easel approach of traditional painting to become an “all-over” painter. He was known to spread large raw canvases on the floor in order to pour, drip, splatter and flick paint onto its surface, from all sides, using all manner of implements from sticks to knives to basting syringes, creating intricate patterns of color and texture.

Jackson Pollock's Lavender MistAs with other paintings produced by Pollock during that time, the visual impact of Lavender Mist comes in part from its sheer size, a nearly ten feet wide piece of vibrancy. Standing in front of the painting, viewers are immersed in the remarkable environment it creates. Upon close examination, the details of the technique can be fully appreciated - lines that grow wide then dwindle to a mere hair’s breadth, and the varied textures of the paint on the vast expanse of canvas. These variations give the painting a shimmering, 3D quality. The interweaving assortment of lines becomes an intriguing net that extends over the whole piece.

Pollock's use of color in Lavender Mist is deceptively subtle. The ever-present hues of black and white seem to dominate, but when one steps away from the painting, a faint pale mauve comes through in the work. It was Pollock’s strongest supporter, art critic Clement Greenberg, who suggested the title of Lavender Mist.  It reveals the elusive nature of Pollock’s use of color as the painting is composed primarily of white, blue, yellow, gray, umber, pink and black. The use of black lines is concentrated around the perimeter of the canvas, serving to draw the eye around and then across the entire expanse in chaotic movement.

Because there is no central subject in the form of a person, place or thing, the viewer is compelled to eagerly scan the world created by the painting, continually noticing new patterns and unexpected revelations, such as Pollock's handprints in the upper right part of the canvas, serving as a primitive stamp of ownership.

The nonrepresentational, seemingly random nature of abstract expressionism found in Pollock’s action paintings incited some critics to liken his works to a toddler’s creation or the product of a mind in turmoil. Others deemed his paintings to be incredibly complex and representative of the delicate balance between happenstance and deliberation. Their complexity has led many to claim it impossible to forge a Pollock action painting.

Jackson Pollock was greatly affected by the harsh opinions of his detractors, one of which maliciously nicknamed him “Jack the Dripper.” The ongoing controversy caused him to experience intense feelings of self-doubt and anxiety, which he tried to appease by binge drinking. His state of depression and ensuing alcoholism eventually prevented him from painting much and ultimately led to his death in a fatal car crash in 1956 at the age of 44.


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