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Jackson Pollock

Number 18, 1951

1951

Artist

Jackson Pollock (1912-1956)

Title

Number 18, 1951

Date

1951

Medium

Enamel on canvas

Dimensions

Overall: 59 1/4 × 55 7/8 in. (150.5 × 141.9 cm)

Credit line

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Gift of The American Contemporary Art Foundation, Inc., Leonard A. Lauder, President

Accession number

2002.258

Object Label

Number 18, 1951 belongs to a series of black enamel paintings that Jackson Pollock executed in 1951 and 1952. In the series, the allover composition and varied palette of the artist’s slightly earlier colored “drip” paintings gave way to a monochrome calligraphy set against a white ground. Pollock worked on long strips of canvas placed on the floor and, in addition to his standard sticks and hardened brushes, he used basting syringes to apply the enamel. Representational elements exist among the black whorls; indeed, many at the time saw the black enamel paintings as Pollock’s return to figuration, a controversial move that was perceived by some members of the art world as a retreat from his earlier, more wholly abstract idiom. The artist had anticipated this reaction, however, and paintings such as Number 18, 1951 did not mark as dramatic a shift in his practice as many thought. As Pollock’s wife and fellow painter, Lee Krasner, explained, “I saw his paintings evolve: many of them, many of the most abstract, began with more or less recognizable imagery—heads, parts of the body, fantastic creatures. Once I asked Jackson why he didn’t stop the painting when a given image was exposed. He said, ‘I choose to veil the imagery.’ Well, that was that painting. With the black-and-whites he chose mostly to expose the imagery.”

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