Jackson Pollock ( American, 1912 - 1956 )

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General Description

Between 1947 and 1950, American painter Jackson Pollock perfected his revolutionary drip technique, deliberately layering paint in incisive compositions of the type seen here in Cathedral. He accomplished this "allover" composition by hovering over a piece of canvas stretched out on his studio floor where he poured, dripped, and flicked paint from the end of a brush or stick. Despite the perception that these actions represented an artist out of control, madly flinging his medium onto the canvas, Pollock was actually very thoughtful and premeditative about his creative process. He moved around and over the canvas in a type of dance, consciously creating compositions that were both elements in a radical new language, and also records of the performances that created them, a process that appropriately came to be known as 'action painting.'

Likened to the facade of a Gothic cathedral by the poet and curator Frank O'Hara, Cathedral's tight, yet dynamic interlacings of black, white, and silver also suggest an energy made visible; here Pollock has recorded in paint the actions that went into the work's very making. Space, form, color and depth of field all merge into one another to generate a dense, endlessly fascinating landscape-like plane of painterly vitality. By literally placing himself in the picture, and by creating abstract form from a profoundly simple fusion of physics and material, Pollock changed the course of art history, and opened a range of possibilities for later artists that led to the development of process art, performance art, earthworks, and other types of unconventional genres.

Cathedral was painted in 1947, the breakthrough year of Pollock's experimentation with drip painting, and it entered the Dallas Museum of Art's collection in 1950, the final year of this "classic" era of Pollock's career. Cathedral was one of the first of Pollock's paintings to enter any museum collection in the world. Pollock's works made during this time defined abstract expressionism, a movement that suggests a blend of abstract form and personal emotion, capturing the energy, ambition and power, as well as the introspection, and often angst and confusion of post–World War II culture in the United States.

Adapted from

  • Gavin Delahunty, ed. Assisted by Stephanie Straine, with essays by Jo Applin, Gavin Delahunty, Michael Fried and Stephanie Straine, Jackson Pollock: Blind Spots, (London: Tate Publishing), 2015, 32.

  • Charles Wylie, Label copy, Re-Seeing the Contemporary: Selected from the Collection, October 2010.

  • Charles Wylie, "Cathedral," in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection, ed. Charles Venable (New Haven, NJ: Yale University Press, 1997), 270-271.

  • Bonnie Pitman, ed., Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection, (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art; New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2012), 291.

  • Charles Wylie, “Jackson Pollock's Cathedral,” in Dallas Museum of Art, 100 Years , ed. Dorothy M. Kosinski (Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art, 2003), Pamphlet number 10.

  • DMA unpublished material.

Related Multimedia

Curator Charlie Wylie talks about Cathedral.
Curator Charlie Wylie talks about Jackson Pollock.

Fun Facts

  • Cathedral is one of Pollock's early "drip paintings" and one of the first of his paintings to enter any museum collection in the world.

  • Since its acquisition in 1950, Cathedral has frequently traveled to museums and galleries all over the world, sometimes spending years at a time away from its home at the DMA. A Dallas Morning News article from July 10, 1960 refers to it as the "most widely-traveled work in DMFA's (then-Dallas Museum of Fine Art) permanent collection," and celebrates its homecoming to the 1960 State Fair. Starting in the 1970s, it has traveled with considerably less frequency, to protect it from wear and tear.

  • Pollock once said, " painting does not come from the easel. I hardly ever stretch my canvas before painting. I prefer to take the unstretched canvas to the hard wall or floor. On the floor I am more at ease. I feel nearer, more a part of the painting, since this way I can walk around it, work from the four sides and literally be in the painting... When I am in my painting, I'm not aware of what I'm doing. It is only after a sort of "get acquainted" period that I see what I have been about... the painting has a life of its own..."

Web Resources

  • SFMoMA
    Watch archival footage of Jackson Pollock narrating and demonstrating his artistic process.

  • MoMA
    Explore 86 works by Pollock at the Museum of Modern Art.

  • Khan Academy
    Watch a short video about Jackson Pollock.

  • SAAM
    See earlier works by Pollock.

  • DMA Uncrated Blog
    Read "Preserving Pollock: A Conversation about Art Conservation."

  • DMA Uncrated Blog
    Listen to an overview of "Jackson Pollock: Blind Spots" by curator Gavin Delahunty.

  • Pollock-Krasner Foundation
    Explore the official website.