JACKSON POLLOCK (1912-1956)
Black and White / Number 6, 1951
signed and dated 51; signed and dated 51 on the reverse
enamel on canvas
56 1/8 by 45 1/4 in. 142.6 by 114.9cm.
Estate of the Artist
Lee Krasner Pollock
Marlborough-Gerson Gallery Inc., New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 1962
New York, Betty Parsons Gallery, Jackson Pollock, November-December 1951, p. 12, illustrated (titled No. 6, 1951)
Zurich, Kunsthaus, Jackson Pollock, October-November 1961, cat. no. 106
Stockholm, Moderna Museet, Jackson Pollock, February-April 1963, cat. no. 92
New York, Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, Jackson Pollock, January-February 1964, no. 123, illustrated
New York, Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, Jackson Pollock: Black and White, March 1969, no. 3, p. 19, illustrated
Düsseldorf, Städtische Kunsthalle; Baden-Baden, Staatliche Kunsthalle, Surrealität - Bildrealität, 1924-1974, December 1974-April 1975, cat. no. 282
Düsseldorf, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Jackson Pollock: Works from the Museum of Modern Art, New York and European Collections, July-October 1999, p. 70, illustrated in color
Sam Hunter, Jackson Pollock, New York, The Museum of Modern Art, 1956, p. 10, illustrated (in the artist's studio)
Lawrence Alloway, "Jackson Pollock", Paletten 4, 1961, p. 82, illustrated
William Rubin, "Jackson Pollock and the Modern Tradition", Artforum 5, no. 9, May 1967, p. 33, illustrated
Francis Valentine O'Connor, Jackson Pollock, New York, The Museum of Modern Art, 1967, p. 61
John Ashbery, "Black Pollock", Art News 68, no. 1, March 1969, p. 28, illustrated
Jerrold Lanos, "Review of Marlborough-Gerson exhibition", Artforum 7, no. 9, May 1969, p. 60, illustrated
Lawrence Alloway, "Pollock's Black and White Paintings", Arts 43, no. 7, May 1969, p. 40, illustrated (in the artist's studio)
Francis Valentine O'Connor & Eugene Victor Thaw, eds., Jackson Pollock: a Catalogue RaisonnE of Paintings, Drawings, and other Works, Volume 2: Paintings 1948-1955, New Haven, 1978, cat. no. 320, p. 133, illustrated
Jackson Pollock: the Black Pourings, 1951-1953, Boston, Institute of Contemporary Art, 1980, p. 8,
illustrated (in the artist's studio)
Ellen G. Landau, Jackson Pollock, New York, 1989, p. 217, illustrated (in the artist's studio) The black paintings mark a period of bold courage in the work of Jackson Pollock. Created in the Spring of 1951, they are the products of an artist unwilling to repeat himself, intent on pushing forward against obstacles and hindrances. The monumental poured paintings, with their lyrical webs of subtle coloring, had reached the heights of their abstraction the previous year. Then came the black paintings. Pastel harmonies were exchanged for deepest black and unprimed linen. Decorative
coloring gave way to hard edged draftsmanship. Veils of incident were pulled back to reveal a skeletal
armature. And in perhaps his most astonishing move, Pollock allowed hints of figuration to break through the pure abstraction. Just when the colored abstractions had reached full fruition, Pollock had the nerve to innovate, rather than recycle the theme.
Black and White/Number 6, 1951 epitomizes this desire to consolidate lessons learned and to extend the oeuvre. The painting, like the earlier drip paintings, remains an index of process, recording the lacy movements and pools of hesitation in enamel applied across the canvas. In the black paintings, however, Pollock focused and refined his technique, stripping away the delicate finery to show an austere interior. Bolts of commercial canvas were hardened with repeated sizing of Rivit glue, and made virtually impenetrable to all but the most persistent enamel. The elegant control of line which remained largely hidden in the layers of previous works is on display here, as Pollock uses a kitchen baster as a fountain pen, moving from drip to pool to
calligraphic arabesque seemingly at
a whim. Sticks and dried brushes, meanwhile, move paint into the
hollows of the hard canvas texture like a drypoint etching. Thick pools of shiny enamel dry rippled and curled, alongside areas of enamel that have united with the textural weave in the act of absorption.
Most extraordinary in the series of black paintings, however, was the
re-emergence of figuration. Pollock refused to subscribe to abstraction as a dogmatic imperative, as many critics of the time did. Instead, he sought a space between figuration and literal abstraction in order to advance his work. The critic John Ashberry would later say, "In Pollock's case it is as though he would question and transform the basis of his art as it had been realized in major drip paintings like Number 1, 1949 and Lavender Mist. Like de Kooning, he had reached a point where literal abstraction was no longer satisfactory. For abstraction is not just substituting 'non-objective' shapes for illusionistic ones; it implies holding up to the light everything that happens around us, substituting that reality for the false, wooden, two-dimensional idea of reality that is constantly trying to get itself recognized as the authentic one." ("Black Pollock", Art News 68, no. 1, March, 1969. p. 66) In these works, both abstraction and figuration would intermingle; Pollock refused to make the issue an either/or proposition.
In paintings such as Black and White/Number 6, 1951, Pollock's work achieved a new synthesis. Early drawings and figurative paintings, grand mythical works such as Male and Female (1942) and The She-Wolf (1943), are here developed according to the breakthrough formal language of monumental drip paintings like Autumn Rhythm. Indeed, when asked about the radical departure of the black paintings, Lee Krasner stressed their continuity: "There's one advantage I had: I saw his paintings evolve. Many of them, many of the most abstract [drip paintings], 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." (Lee Krasner Pollock, in an interview with B.H. Friedman in Jackson Pollock: Black and White, New York, Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, 1969.) By unveiling the imagery, these black and white paintings seek balance and reconciliation and at the same time they defy expectation.
Black and White/Number 6, 1951 is
a particularly powerful example of this new synthesis. Of all the black paintings, this is perhaps one of the richest and darkest, filled with repeated
passages of enamel, pooled to form deep blacks, and then dragged and scratched to create dry half-tones. Luxurious textures permeate these
passages of the upper right of the canvas, while a wet arabesque pours out in a finely controlled line twisting in upon itself in the lower left. One can't help but imagine the lines as the contours of organic forms - heads, fingers, legs, or arms. A campaign
of single drips unifies the work with
isolated drops of paint, some with pigment pulled out to form delicate webs.
Black and White/Number 6, 1951 stands as an artist's guide for how to move beyond the drip paintings, both for Pollock and for a generation to follow. Cy Twombly's dried lines, both abstract and figurative, scratched across the canvas seem indebted to these black paintings. Brice Marden's calligraphic lines and even Frank Stella's black paintings, can be said to approach Pollock through these late works. In combining lyrical abstraction with the suggestion of figuration, Pollock opened new possibilities. Indeed, as Michael Fried said in his landmark 1965 article, "...in a series of remarkable paintings... Pollock seems to have been on the verge of an entirely new and different kind of painting, combining figuration with opticality in a new pictorial synthesis of virtually limitless potential..." Michael Fried in "Jackson Pollock." Artforum 4, No. 1, September, 1965.