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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Jackson Pollock created some drawings that he treated as independent artworks, whilst others were study pieces for later paintings. There have been increased efforts in recent years to document and research his work within this medium as we try to produce a more comprehensive overview of his entire oeuvre.

The first thing that you will notice from the small selection of Pollock drawings that we have featured within this section is the variety of drawing tools that he used. There were all manner of different materials used, from standard pencils and charcoal to indian ink, gouache and other alternatives. This is entirely typical of modern artists from the mid to late 20th century who created many mixed media artworks and were passionate about pushing boundaries and being experimental as possible. There was also a much greater access to these many mediums that in previous centuries because of the art manufacturers who recognised a widening of interests. Many of the younger artists would be introduced to all manner of different materials within their studies and then seek to continue this variety as their careers developed. There was also no need to follow in the same footsteps of what had gone before, technically, and that new ideas could potentially be derived from trying out the different mediums.

It appears that Pollock would make use of more informal types of mediums, such as these, to flesh out ideas and start to build his visual language that would ultimately be published through his large scale paintings. Many of the elements found in his major artworks can be tracked to earlier sketches, such as with his outlines of animals and human figures. There were also experimentations with indian ink on small sheets of paper which were later extended into his drip painting technique that combined a wider palette and larger canvas. It is findings such as this that underline the benefits of hosting exhibitions that offer different mediums from the same artist, in order to visually see the relation between each and also to better understand their development over time. We can almost peer into the artist's mind to see new ideas appearing first on paper, and then being developed further before finally coming into life on canvas.

At around the time of WWII there was an influx of Europeans into the US and a good number of these were artists who wanted to escape the horrors of war, as best they could. This would actually impact Pollock's career in that a number of new influences would now become involved in his development. He was always looking to experiment and so new art figures was always welcome in his eyes. One extraordinary example of this would be how he started to work on engravings more within his career which came about after a print workshop in Paris moved lock-stock-and-barrel across to New York City in order to continue its production without the various impediments now appearing across Europe. Stanley William Hayter was a British printmaker who took the decision to move his enterprise across to the US and he encouraged the artists that he met to work in the automatist style, which was common amongst the Surrealists. Pollock produced a series of engravings here, though these would not appear until after his death and so were more of a personal path of discovery at that stage, rather than a desire to necessarily produce something to sell commercially.

Several years later there was a number of screenprints produced by Pollock from some existing paintings. His screenprints would be produced at a size of a quarter of the size of the original and this project was suggested to him by a friend in preparation for an upcoming exhibition in New York. The city itself was now establishing itself as a key global hub for the arts world, with an advantage over Europe because of the recent war as well as a stronger focus on the newer art movements. At around this time he also started to experiment in filling straws with ink and then blowing colour onto small pieces of paper, which bears similarities to his drip paintings but on a much smaller scale. Some of these indian ink creations are featured in this page, as part of a small selection of Jackson Pollock's drawings. They all remain in the collection of the MoMA in New York, USA.

There was a highly significant exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art within the United States in 2016 which brought together a selection of Jackson Pollock's work from the period of 1934–1954. Many drawings, engravings, lithographs and screenprints were brought together for this show which helped many to understand the greater variety of mediums in which this artist was involved that most were originally aware. By presenting these different items together it became clear as to how obsessed the artist was with experimenting with process and how he considered this a key part of his artistic expression. It was this same desire to try new routes which brought about the drip painting method, for example, which allowed him to become physically involved in the work, from a variety of angles. He would never have been able to sit down comfortably and work in a standard realist manner for long, and was soon looking for alternative methods by which to express his turbulent character. We can actually see a similar situation within Rothko drawings as well, and the two artists certainly shared some similarities within their artistic approaches.