In the decades following World War II, a new artistic vanguard emerged, particularly in New York, that introduced radical new directions in art. The war and its aftermath were at the underpinnings of the movement that became known as Abstract Expressionism. These artists, anxiously aware of human irrationality and vulnerability, expressed their concerns in an abstract art that chronicled the ardor and exigencies of modern life. Their heroic aspirations are most evident in Jackson Pollock's innovative “drip” paintings that forever altered the course of American art.
Arriving in New York in 1930 from the West Coast, Pollock began working with figuration of both human and imaginary beings. Most of this imagery was connected to that of American Indian sand painting and the Mexican muralists he saw as a youth and that reemerged through psychoanalysis to treat his lifelong alcoholism. His first fully mature works—dating between 1942 and 1947—use an idiosyncratic iconography he developed in part as a response to Surrealism, popular in New York with its numerous European exiles from World War II. Employing mythical subject matter, calligraphic markings, and a vibrant and distinctive color palette, Pollock produced emotionally charged works that retain figurative subject matter yet emphasize abstract qualities. Arising from this confluence of abstraction and figuration are Pollock's breakthrough works, commonly perceived as pure abstraction and made over the course of an explosive period between late 1947 and 1950 as represented by Untitled (Green Silver). At the time, he also broke free from the standard use of implements, usually abandoning their direct contact with the surface. Working from above the picture plane, he dripped and poured enamel paints on canvases and papers, a method that more precisely controlled the application of line. His preference for the technique of fluid paint spilling from the can or drizzling from the tips of sticks or trowels was heralded by critic Harold Rosenberg as “action painting.” These unconventional working methods and his own physical presence while creating these works have assumed epic proportions. In the last four years of his life—he died in an automobile accident on August 11, 1956—he produced significantly fewer works, with each further refining his pouring method. Compositionally, they hark back to his earlier style through the reintroduction of figurative elements as in Ocean Greyness, which also addresses his allover abstract technique. Its dramatic, swirling forms set against a dark ground recall Pollock's Eyes in the Heat (1946).