Portrait and a Dream
Jackson Pollock ( American, 1912 - 1956 )
Baring his inner self in a way few other American artists did, Jackson Pollock redefined the very character of what it meant to be an artist and to make art in the years just after World War II and beyond. Well-known for large-scale drip paintings that became synonymous with the abstract expressionist movement, Pollock overtly revisits the figure in this later work entitled, Portrait and a Dream, painted just three years before his tragic death in 1956. Portrait and a Dream has been the subject of widespread interpretation, yet no single theory has surfaced to explain this mysterious work. The image on the right side of the canvas has been interpreted as Jackson Pollock's self-portrait, perhaps partially obscured by some kind of mask. A similar face appeared in numerous drawings Pollock created over the years, which many critics have suggested relates to his experiences with Jungian analysis, a branch of psychiatry that regards some symbols as universally present in the human subconscious.
On the left, an image of a sketchily painted reclining female figure may embody the "dream" of the painting's title. Unlike, for instance, the tangled web of orange, white, grey, silver, blue, black and cream enamel and aluminum paints that lacerate and obscure the canvas of Cathedral [1950.87], Portrait and A Dream has large areas of beige cotton visible, allowing a closer inspection of the effects of the pouring process on the canvas. They reveal a freedom of movement above and around the canvas and a remarkable diversity of line, where the unprimed canvas absorbs the paint so completely that the backside of the canvas is a reverse of the front. Unlike the thick layers of paint in Pollock's best-known drip paintings, this work compresses its depth to only two unified layers, the cotton "duck" fabric canvas and the enamel paint.
Since the critical and commercial world had become accustomed to Pollock's all-over paintings, they struggled to understand new works like this, even though all of the attributes that distinguish a Pollock are on view, albeit in a mature, concentrated way. It seems that the overt figuration in this work and his so-called black paintings made around the same time, was viewed as a retrogressive step, threatening to undermined Pollock's earlier contribution to abstract painting. Toward the end of his life, Pollock explained: "I'm very representational some of the time, and a little all of the time. But when you're painting out of your unconscious, figures are bound to emerge." It is now commonly understood that the conversation between figuration and abstraction played a consistent role in Pollock's visual language.
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, 17-20.
Charles Wylie, Re-Seeing the Contemporary: Selected from the Collection, 2010.
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), 209.
Charles Wylie, "Portrait and a Dream," in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection, ed. Charles Venable (New Haven, NJ: Yale University Press, 1997), 270-271.
This painting was previously owned by Pollock's widow, fellow abstract expressionist artist Lee Krasner.
“Painting is a state of being. . . . Painting is self-discovery. Every good artist paints what he is.” --Jackson Pollock
Watch archival footage of Jackson Pollock narrating and demonstrating his artistic process.
Explore 86 works by Pollock at the Museum of Modern Art.
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Read "Preserving Pollock: A Conversation about Art Conservation."
DMA Uncrated Blog
Listen to an overview of "Jackson Pollock: Blind Spots" by curator Gavin Delahunty.
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