Jackson Pollock’s Autumn Rhythm (Number 30) is no accident

Jackson Pollock - Autumn Rhythm (Number 30), 1950, enamel on canvas, 266.7 x 525.8 cm (8 ft. 9 in. x 17 ft. 3 in.), installation view, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Jackson Pollock – Autumn Rhythm (Number 30), 1950, enamel on canvas, 266.7 x 525.8 cm (8 ft. 9 in. x 17 ft. 3 in.), installation view, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, photo: CC BY-NC 2.0 by rocor

Introduction

Autumn Rhythm (Number 30) is an abstract expressionist painting by Jackson Pollock. It is currently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and is considered one of the most remarkable pieces of art all of the time.

The painting, which stands 266.7 × 525.8 cm (105.0 × 207.0 in), is one of the largest and impressive of Pollock’s paintings.

His infamous painting technique included working on unprimed canvas laid on the studio floor. Pollock splashed paint directly from the cans or using sticks, heavily loaded brushes, knives, syringes, as well as other gears to control a stream of color as he seeped and chucked into the canvas.

Jackson Pollock - Autumn Rhythm (Number 30), 1950, enamel on canvas, 266.7 x 525.8 cm (8 ft. 9 in. x 17 ft. 3 in.), installation view, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Detail of Jackson Pollock – Autumn Rhythm (Number 30), 1950, enamel on canvas, 266.7 x 525.8 cm (8 ft. 9 in. x 17 ft. 3 in.), installation view, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, photo: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 by juan tan kwon

Technique & The creation process

This painting was created in the fall of 1950 at the artist’s studio in Springs1, New York, as a part of a collection of paintings he exhibited at the Betty Parsons Gallery in 1951.

It took him several months to create Autumn Rhythm (Number 30), with his friend and photographer Hans Namuth partly documenting the process. Through this documentation, Namuth provided us with an insight into the sequence in which Jackson Pollock filled in the canvas and the order in which paint colors were applied to the painting.

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From the images of the painting process, it can be seen that Pollock started painting the right third of the canvas, laying down a reel of thin dark lines, before adding other shades of colors such as white and browns with little teal blue.

He used various dripping and pouring techniques to create different kinds of lines and splashed areas of paint until it began to look like its finished state. Lastly, he worked on the center section of the piece before finishing with the left-hand section. He painted from all sides of the canvas throughout the entire process.

Detail of Jackson Pollock - Autumn Rhythm (Number 30), 1950, enamel on canvas, 266.7 x 525.8 cm (8 ft. 9 in. x 17 ft. 3 in.), installation view, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Detail of Jackson Pollock – Autumn Rhythm (Number 30), 1950, enamel on canvas, 266.7 x 525.8 cm (8 ft. 9 in. x 17 ft. 3 in.), installation view, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, photo: CC BY-SA 2.0 by Max Braun

The title

When the work was complete, he gave it the title Number 30. Throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s, Pollock gave his artworks numbers instead of titles so that, according to him, the viewers were not distracted with disguised meanings.

However, the numbered titles do not imply the sequence in which the pieces were created. But when this work was displayed at the Sidney Janis Gallery in 1955, the artwork bore the title Autumn Rhythm, without the number.

The artist didn’t give any reason for the title change, though art historian Timothy J. Clark thinks that Autumn Rhythm might have been Pollock’s own title for the work.

Location

Jackson Pollock - Autumn Rhythm (Number 30), 1950, enamel on canvas, 266.7 x 525.8 cm (8 ft. 9 in. x 17 ft. 3 in.), installation view, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Jackson Pollock – Autumn Rhythm (Number 30), 1950, enamel on canvas, 266.7 x 525.8 cm (8 ft. 9 in. x 17 ft. 3 in.), installation view, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, photo: CC BY-NC 2.0 by Thomas Hawk

Autumn Rhythm is on view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 9192.

Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 5th Ave, New York, NY 10028

Analysis

Autumn Rhythm (Number 30) is considered one of the most influential paintings of all time. It has inspired many people across different fields, including science and fashion.

Pollock’s painting style has been debated within physics, as it raises questions as to whether or not it displays evidence of fractal patterns.

A physicist from Boston College and mathematician from Harvard teamed up with an art historian to examine Pollock’s application of coiling instability in his paintings.

According to Roberto Zenit, a physicist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico and Brown University, it is highly possible that Pollock relied intensely on physics as he painted, but whether it was deliberate or not is not known.

However, he liked playing with viscosity and texture when preparing his paints, adding some solvents to make them thinner or thicker. In footage from 1950 recorded by Namuth, Pollock can be seen working on a project, and at one point, he says3:

I can control the flow of paint. There is no accident.

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Jackson Pollock behind one of his paintings in his studio at The Springs, East Hampton, New York, August 23, 1953

Physicists and mathematicians are currently debating whether or not Pollock deliberately used coiling in his paintings. However, according to Zenit, the artist’s painting style is not really “dripping” if you look at it from a fluid mechanics point of view. He stated:

“Dripping” is a term that refers to the break up of a fluid jet onto drops resulting from surface tension instability. For the condition under which Pollock painted, the fluid filaments rarely fragmented while they were applied.

Zenit and his team used the footage from Pollock’s workplace to analyze how the artist worked. He recorded how quickly he moved and the distance from the canvas as he puddled the paint. Next, the team built a system in the form of a big syringe attached to an adjustable stand to simulate those movements. Zenit wrote4:

We can vary one thing at a time so we can decipher the key elements of the technique. For example, we could vary the height from which the paint is poured and keep the speed constant to see how that changes things.

The result of the experiment was rather shocking. Rather than using coiling, they found that most traces that the artist produced were since Pollock actively avoided coiling instabilities.

The findings contradicted the 2011 research by a team led by physicist Andrzej Herczynski. Zenit added:

Specifically, Pollock moved his hand at sufficiently high speed and at a low-enough height as to suppress the emergence of coiling. Like most painters, Jackson Pollock went through a long process of experimentation to perfect his technique. What we were trying to do with this research is figure out what conclusions Pollock reached in order to execute his paintings the way he wanted. Our main finding in this paper was that Pollock’s movements and properties of his paints were such he avoided this coiling instability.

Embed from Getty Images

Jackson Pollock opening the barn door to his studio The Springs, East Hampton, New York, August 23, 1953

Like any other research, more study is needed, and this is not a conclusion on the subject. One of the challenges Zenit and his team faced during their analysis was that the footage used was from 1950 and thus had a very low resolution.

This means there is some level of uncertainty regarding the measurements they used. For instance, they could not get the concurrent height and hand speed measurements, thus making it hard to correlate the two variables.

Also, though Zenit et al. used a similar paint to Pollock’s – a commercial black cellulose Nitrate lacquer, the materials they used likely had a different composition to materials used by Pollock, therefore different degrees of density and viscosity.

Another flaw in Zenit et al. study is that Pollock didn’t characteristically hold the stick he sued to splatter paint vertically. Instead, he typically swung it in wide bows, though Zenit proved that this was not significant enough to change the final finding. The team concluded5:

This result could be of importance for authentication: a painting with too many coiled traces would indicate that the painting was not created by Pollock. Furthermore, understanding the conditions for which the coiling can be prevented could have implications in practical applications where such an effect needs to be prevented, as in the case of ink-jet printing or the fabrication of optic fibers.

Jackson Pollock - Autumn Rhythm (Number 30), 1950, enamel on canvas, 266.7 x 525.8 cm (8 ft. 9 in. x 17 ft. 3 in.), installation view, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Jackson Pollock – Autumn Rhythm (Number 30), 1950, enamel on canvas, 266.7 x 525.8 cm (8 ft. 9 in. x 17 ft. 3 in.), installation view, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, photo: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 by juan tan kwon

Autumn Rhythm in fashion

Jackson Pollock’s Number 30 also influenced the fashion world. Many designers are drawn to the artist’s painting style because the splatter invokes a street-style look. Pollock’s work is about movement and has inspired countless casual outfits.

sacai x Jackson Pollock Studios
sacai x Jackson Pollock Studios
sacai x Jackson Pollock Studios
sacai x Jackson Pollock Studios
sacai x Jackson Pollock Studios
sacai x Jackson Pollock Studios
sacai x Jackson Pollock Studios
sacai x Jackson Pollock Studios
sacai x Jackson Pollock Studios
sacai x Jackson Pollock Studios
sacai x Jackson Pollock Studios
sacai x Jackson Pollock Studios
Paint tins on the floor of the studio of artist Jackson Pollock, Springs, East Hampton, New York
Paint tins on the floor of the studio of artist Jackson Pollock, Springs, East Hampton, New York, photo: Rhododendrites, CC BY-SA 4.0

Japanese designer Chitose Abe’s fashion label Sacai created a clothing line using details from Jackson Pollock’s paint-splattered studio floor in The Springs. The apparel was unveiled in Sacai’s Fall 2019 Ready-to-Wear Collection and premiered in Paris in January 2019. The project was a collaboration with Pollock-Krasner House & Study, according to the East Hampton Museum.

But that wasn’t the first time Pollock’s painting splatters were used in fashion. The art movement abstract expressionism made a massive hit on fashion runways in the 2013/14 apparel collection, including Paint Splatter sneakers by Maison Martin Margiela.

Maison Martin Margiela x Jackson Pollock
Maison Martin Margiela x Jackson Pollock
Maison Martin Margiela Red Pollock Mid-Top Replica Sneaker
Maison Martin Margiela Red Pollock Mid-Top Replica Sneaker

As fashion and art historians continue to argue whether fashion is art, there is no denying the influence, particularly when looking at some of the direct links between abstract expressionism and its effect on the current fashion industry.

Value

Almost all of Pollock’s drip paintings are in museum collections. However, there is one exception: For a long time, Pollock’s No. 5 (1948) has been considered the most expensive painting of all time, with a reported purchase price of $ 140 million.

This red, yellow and gray artwork was previously displayed at the Museum of Modern Art and changed hands to David Geffen. It was then sold by him in November 20066 to Mexican entrepreneur David Martínez in a private transaction, even though Martinez’s attorneys denied that he owned the painting.

With only one recorded price of a comparable artwork within the last 15 years or so, estimating the price of Autumn Rhythm is challenging. Additionally, a limited supply of artworks by legendary and groundbreaking7 artists such as Pollock can lead to unpredictable and outrageous prices. Buyers pay for not only an artwork but also the special status that comes along with it.

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In comparison to No. 5, measuring 1.2 x 2.4 m (4 x 8 foot), Autumn Rhythm (Number 30) is roughly five times larger. Given the size and standing of it, the painting should be priced upwards of $ 140 million even when adjusted for inflation.

We will probably not find out the exact price anytime soon. Autumn Rhythm (Number 30) is in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Despite the museum’s deaccessioning plan8, the MET has a $3.3 billion endowment and a 150-year history of generous donors9. This makes it highly unlikely that the painting will ever end up on the secondary art market.

Analysis

Whether Pollock was inspired by physics or not, Autumn Rhyth and many of his other paintings have had a massive influence on abstract expressionism. The unofficial title of this painting (Autumn Rhythm) suggests the month in which it was created, which is October, as well as implies an alignment with nature’s constant mutability.

By spreading the canvas on the floor, Pollock obtained absolute freedom of movement and the capacity to splash paint to the canvas. Having complete freedom of movement was important, especially when dealing with such immense spaces, which he loved dealing with. Art critics believe that Pollock’s love for vast spaces was due to his youthful recollections of infinite Savannah as well as the Grand Canyon.

Autumn Rhythm has a stunning size, and its uniqueness lies in the fact that it is quite a fascinating sight both up close and from a distance. Depending on the whims of the audience’s imagination, it can be seen coiled in the dance of the human body, the ghostly figures of animals, and enigmatic symbols concealed in its depths. The painting exudes a sense of mastery and spontaneity.

Detail of Jackson Pollock - Autumn Rhythm (Number 30), 1950, enamel on canvas, 266.7 x 525.8 cm (8 ft. 9 in. x 17 ft. 3 in.), installation view, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Detail of Jackson Pollock – Autumn Rhythm (Number 30), 1950, enamel on canvas, 266.7 x 525.8 cm (8 ft. 9 in. x 17 ft. 3 in.), installation view, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, photo: CC BY-NC 2.0 by Thomas Hawk

Conclusion

Next time you come across Autumn Rhythm, try to move beyond the basic paint patterns on the canvas and see a solitary note of sound untangling in thick and thin, curved and straight, monochrome and Versicolor dribbled lines. Just let your mind wander along with the complex lacework of Jackson Pollock’s tune on canvas. Follow your instinct.

Footnotes

  1. https://www.stonybrook.edu/pkhouse/
  2. https://maps.metmuseum.org/galleries/fifth-ave/2/919
  3. https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/jackson-pollock-1785/jackson-pollock-separating-man-myth
  4. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/467753
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6821064/
  6. https://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/02/arts/design/02drip.html
  7. https://publicdelivery.org/tag/groundbreaking/
  8. https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/story/2021-02-14/art-deaccessioning-metropolitan-museum
  9. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/08/29/coronavirus-the-mets-3-billion-endowment-couldnt-save-it-from-layoffs-as-iconic-museum-struggles-with-pandemic.html

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