During and after World War II, many European artists, especially Surrealists, came to America. Aware of such artists' work, Jackson Pollock and others of his generation were thus introduced to the exploration of the unconscious and to the psychoanalytical theories of Freud and Jung. Automatic drawing, a technique devised by the Surrealists to elicit the free expression of the creative unconscious, was one method artists used to liberate themselves from academic training and traditional modes of expression. Few pursued this liberation with the vigor and invention of Jackson Pollock.
Born and brought up in the western United States, Pollock eventually studied with the painter Thomas Hart Benton at the Art Students League in New York City. Though he came to reject Benton's Renaissance-derived compositions and midwestern imagery, Pollock was profoundly influenced by the emphasis on content and gestural rhythms of the older artist's work.
By 1947 Pollock had devised a working method that featured linear tangles of dripped paint, and he regarded his paintings as records of his own intense activity. He numbered most of these works instead of titling them, thereby avoiding any external reference that might limit their meaning. Pollock's dense, swirling skeins of paint heralded Abstract Expressionism, which established New York as the successor to Paris as the center of the modern movement.
It would be a mistake, however, to see Pollock's work as purely automatic. He controlled the flow of paint carefully, forming it into an allover composition in the center of the canvas and leaving the edges largely untouched. Pollock thus followed the compositional practices of Analytical Cubism, but his loops, whorls, and nets of paint are far more lyrical and energetic than the explicitly rational forms of Cubist painting. His paintings suggest centrifugal force combined with an endless series of complex incidents, an impression created as one line or shape overlaps another only to be covered in turn. In larger works the effect is overwhelming, engulfing the viewer in a world unlike any other visual experience. Even in smaller paintings, like this one, the viewer may quickly become lost in the constant motion and flux of the composition.