Convergence by Jackson Pollock

What Size Were Jackson Pollock’s Paintings?

Action painting pioneer Jackson Pollock is best known for his ‘drip’ paintings, created in the latter half of the 1940s and early 1950s in the United States, which would often dominate entire rooms due to their size and the bold chaotic splash painting technique used (I wrote about some of his most expensive paintings here). But he didn’t only paint on large scale canvases. In this article I explore some of the different sizes of paintings by Jackson Pollock, including the smaller pieces that led to him developing the confidence to take on canvases that would fill an entire wall.

Jackson Pollock painted on a wide range of canvas sizes over his career, from small handheld pieces to the likes of Mural (1943) which – commissioned to fill an entire hallway wall by Peggy Guggenheim – was Pollock’s largest painting, measuring a gigantic 8×20 feet (160 square feet of canvas).

Jackson Pollock painted on a wide range of canvas sizes over his career. Pollock would begin with small, handheld-sized painting of landscape scenes early on in his career (as confidence, painting style and budget dictated). He then moved on to slightly larger canvas sizes during his figurative painting stage, before his drip painting years saw him display the brashness required to produce some huge paintings. These included Mural (1943), which – commissioned to fill an entire hallway wall by Peggy Guggenheim – was Pollock’s largest painting, measuring a gigantic 8×20 feet (160 square feet of canvas).

Kerwin next to an original Jackson Pollock painting, One: Number 31, 1950 at the Museum of Modern Art, New York
Kerwin next to a large original Jackson Pollock painting, One: Number 31, 1950, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York

Jackson Pollock wore many hats throughout his career

While we often associate Jackson Pollock with large, impactful ‘statement’ paintings that would dominate a wall, he did in fact create his paintings on a number of different sized canvases. For instance, while he was developing his ‘drip’ style of painting and likely getting familiar with the materials and results, he often chose more modest canvas sizes to paint on. His early (and often under-appreciated) career years, far before he had conceived the idea of throwing paint onto his surface – with his artwork focusing on landscape scenes and figurative painting – also saw him paint much smaller pieces.

What were Jackson Pollock’s early paintings like?

Although famed for his ‘drip’ technique and action paintings created towards the end of his career and life, Jackson Pollock started off – as so many artists do and have done – as painting in a genre far removed was his signature style. Among Pollock’s first paintings were landscape scenes of the American countryside, often depicting a lonesome and gloomy tone, along with scenes capturing human and animal figures, all painted with traditional brush techniques. These composition-oriented paintings were much smaller than many of most famous dripped creations. Camp With Oil Rig (painted around 1930-1933) measured 18×25¼ inches (45.7×64.1cm), while Going West (thought to be painted in 1935) was 38x52cm and Landscape With Steer (1937) was 35x47cm in size.

Pollock painted many of his early artworks while in art college or art school. Having been born into a working class family as one of five brothers, it is likely that budget constraints were a factor in Pollock’s choice of canvas size. The Great Depression and resulting impact throughout the 1930s also caused much economic hardship for Pollock and most aspiring artists of his time; Jackson was far away from being able to sell his artwork and, on the brink of poverty for many of these years, there are stories of him shoplifting oil paints and other materials to get by. Oversized canvases would therefore have seemed an extravagance.

Where did Jackson Pollock do his first paintings?

There was also practicality to consider; having yet to establish his own studio, Pollock’s early paintings were created in a spare or shared room in his house or apartment in New York. Jackson often painted next to his older brother Charles (who was also an artist), so smaller canvases would have been more manageable and portable while he was transporting these to and from college.

Stylistically, Pollock’s landscapes also suited the smaller canvas size; his intricate farm, industrial and countryside-themed paintings would have been harder to execute effectively on a larger canvas size. Moreover, Pollock spent many years developing his artistic style before he became comfortable and confident in his own painting abilities – so smaller canvases were apt for someone who was nothing more than an ambitious yet still amateur painting in art school.

Pollock also continued to experiment with different art mediums for much of the 1930. Starting out small with a new medium, one of his smallest creations was a 1937 lithograph titled Figures In A Landscape measuring just 26x37cm. He also painted on small household items such as plates and tea towels as part of various art school assignments (sadly few of these items remain).

How did Jackson Pollock start off with drip painting?

The Flame by Jackson Pollock
The Flame (1938)

Having become more familiar and more confident with the medium of painting, Pollock’s mid- and late-1930s paintings seemed to expand in size slightly, to what you might call medium size canvases (as opposed to small at the start of his career).

This expansion in size seemed to naturally accompany the evolution in Pollock’s painting style towards more surrealist and abstract components within his painting. These required a larger canvas size in order to let Pollock express and deconstruct the different compositional elements of his paintings. The Flame (1938) measured 51x76cm and is a vivid and early indication of abstract expressionism creeping into Pollock’s work; the bold black lines and repetition of pattern within this painting hinted at eventually being suited to a much larger canvas size.

Composition With Pouring II by Jackson Pollock
Composition With Pouring II (1943)

Pollock’s paintings varied drastically in size during the late-1930s to early 1940’s period, however, as he really started to experiment with the ‘action’ painting technique of applying paint without making contact with the canvas surface. Composition With Pouring II (1943) was one of his earliest experimental poured pieces and measured 63.9×56.3cm. This painting incorporated brushed elements, of swirling background patterns or green and red, alongside figurative components of what look like eyes and eyelashes, and finished off with drizzled layers of black and cream; marking an interesting convergence of several of Pollock’s painting styles within one piece.

What was Jackson Pollock’s first drip painting?

The experimental theme continued late in the year of 1943, with Pollock creating what is likely his first purely dripped or poured artwork, a black and sky blue screen-print which spanned just 14.2×21.5cm and was used as a holiday card and dated with 1944 on at the bottom (Pollock’s wife, Lee Krasner, was Jewish and Pollock himself non-religious, so they opted for holiday card over Christmas card).

Possibly Jackson Pollock's first ever fully dripped painting, 1943
Possibly Jackson Pollock’s first ever fully dripped painting – a holiday card screenprint painted late 1943 (Credit: HamptonsTV YouTube)

Ironically, just before this tiny experimental poured screen-print was likely created in the fall of 1943, Pollock had not long finished what was his larger ever painting, Mural; measuring a whopping 8 feet in height and 20 feet across. This was painted as a commission for the New York hallway of his patron, the socialite Peggy Guggenheim. Pollock even had to remove an internal wall in his house to fit the rolled canvas in and be able to paint it!

Mural was a predominantly brush-painted piece that also featured some pink splattered elements and marked a significant moment in Pollock’s career, signifying the transition between surrealist abstraction over the previous years to his purely action-painted form of painting in his later years.

The action painting years

Pollock’s signature ‘action’ painting period, from 1947 to his death in 1956 again featured an array of canvas sizes (with both landscape and portrait orientation being used for his drip paintings). It seems, though, that total confidence in his own painting abilities by this time, coupled with increased space at his home in Springs in East Hampton on Long Island, New York, marked a significant moment in Pollock’s career. While far from riches, Pollock had also secured a more sizeable regular stipend that afforded him more materials, which him to let his artistic ambitions run wild and create some truly staggering and giant statement paintings.

One of his final paintings before he went all-out with his drip technique, however, was another smaller experimental piece, Free Form (1946). This measured 48.9×35.5cm and featured just three colours: a deep brush-painted red background followed by a layer each of white and black. This is also said to have been Pollock’s first completely poured painting. It was also his first ‘all-over’ painting, in which he did away with any notion of composition within the artwork and covered the canvas evenly with the poured paint. Again, it’s easy to see why he chose a smaller canvas when breaking new ground with this revolutionary style.

Kerwin next to Jackson Pollock painting, Number 1A, 1948, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York
Kerwin next to a medium sized Jackson Pollock painting, Number 1A, 1948, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York

Jackson Pollock the action painter

From then, Pollock prolifically created his series of drip-painted pieces on a wide range of canvas sizes and dimensions, frequently varying the scale on which he was working (Pollock is said to have often strived for a scale that is “halfway state” between a mural and an easel-sized painting). Some of his most notable drip paintings are unsurprisingly those on the larger size, including Convergence (1952), measuring 237x390cm; Number 5 (1948), measuring 2.4×1.2 metres (or 8×4 feet); and Blue Poles (1952) at 212x488cm. He also, however, produced his drip painting on smaller canvases too; Lucifer is under 50 inches (127cm) in height, while Number 5, 1948 is less than 50 inches in width.

In 1950 he also painted his first mural-sized piece since 1943’s Mural for Peggy Guggenheim, measuring 9×15 feet and titled Number 32, 1950 (unusually for Pollock, this painting consisted of one sole layer of black poured paint on the white canvas, and was regarded by himself and critics as one of his best ever pieces). He followed this up with two further giant mural efforts – One and Autumn Rhythm, spanning 9×18 feet each.Pollock’s final painting was White Light (1954), at 122x97cm.

Canvassing opinion

Like most notable artists, Jackson Pollock’s signature style of artwork was not the only style he painted with during his career; his drip technique was rather the result of the best part of two decades spent pursuing other artistic styles and inclinations. Naturally, he created his paintings on a whole range of canvas sizes and dimensions, frequently choosing to vary his painting sizes and proportions. In fact, one of the widest pieces he painted, Summertime: Number 9A, 1948 – at 18 feet 2 inches wide – was also one of his shortest, at 33¼ inches (2.7 feet) high.

We perhaps shouldn’t be surprised that it was some of his largest action paintings that he is most famous for, and which best capture the chaotic and explosive nature of his drip paintings. Nevertheless, some of his smaller dripped and poured paintings are also some of his most notable. Which is your favourite Jackson Pollock painting?

Do you prefer Pollock’s bigger or smaller paintings?

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