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The Subversion of Gravity in Jackson Pollock's Abstractions


While implementing the Surrealist directive of eliciting the unconscious, and intent on generating an extensive vocabulary of unbroken, free-flowing lines, Jackson Pollock felt his ambitions frustrated by two constraints endemic to conventional easel painting: the interruption of the creative act caused by the inconvenient need to reload the brush and the drag on his hand as he spread pigment along the canvas surface. Since artistic activity constitutes one of the few arenas left in capitalist society for individual expression to manifest itself without managerial oversight, then the Abstract Expressionists' unprecedented flaunting of improvisation in their mode of execution could be construed as a direct attempt to compensate for the marginalization of spontaneity and individual agency in mechanized industrial production.119 Whereas this materialist, though ultimately metaphoric, interpretation may not fit all painters associated with the New York school,120 and many social art historians have actually come to diametrically opposed conclusions,121 Pollock's political sympathies were closely aligned with its basic premise.122 From this perspective, the artist's evocation of spontaneous bodily motion, empathy with natural phenomena, and enlisting of a natural force in his working process served to reinforce his rejection of all things programmatic, precalculated, and repressive; his reaction to the industrial age in which he lived-"the airplane, the atom bomb, the radio,"123 as he described it-took the form of a denial or negation.

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