Pollock began to write the number five in the lower quadrant of the canvas. For whatever reason he abandoned this particular number and added what looks like a couple of inverted commas. He writes the number again, he tips in the year 1952, then signs the canvas…the signature appears to be written with a thick marker pen, the signature seems awkward…constricted.
At what point was this particular painting monogramed…and with the autographing of the painting was Pollock signing off a ‘finished’ canvas or simply authenticating his efforts?
By 1952 Pollock had consciously tried to move away from his accustomed style, yet within this painting he appeared to be returning to more familiar territories, the poring of paint over the surface using tools such as glass basting syringes. Over the top of this black canvas he applies a tangled mesh of poured curves and lines, each score seeming to be marking or slashed at the black template beneath. Pollock returned further into his past. He picks up a brush, loads it with paint and commences to add a number of large slabs of colour on to the black painting - the miasma of his former painting vocabulary comes to bear upon this laboured canvas.
Only a few years previous the porings had lyricism and the painter ‘bopped’ above the surface, he worked with calmness, sobriety and sensitivity. Now conceivably lacking confidence and self-assurance, Pollock may have realised that his energies were spent. Could he ever convince himself that he could draw and paint, or that he could ‘do black’ like Kline?
Pollock continues to set upon the canvas; ’I have no fear of making changes, destroying the image…because the painting has a life of it’s own’. The tension increases as he wrestles between the figure and the ground, between abstraction and representation, between content and technique. The canvas is on the floor; dense black paint is clumsily poured over the bulk of the yellow, white and red slabs. The poured line seem to interlink these blocks of colour. Are they being pulled out of the image by a hook-like form that protrudes out of the bottommost edge of the canvas? Or are these skeins being pulled into a whirlpool, a centrifuge towards the midpoint of the canvas? The qualities of these lines in contrast to the first painting are somewhat crude by comparison. It is possible this painting was reworked over a period of time.
Pollock up righted the canvas, and taking hold of a thick brush, plunged it into a can of clotting black paint. It is possible that the paint he uses was old stock, even the dregs from the bottom of the can. Finally he cuts to a swathe of paint in the upper-middle of the painting. Loading up the brush once more Pollock daubs the center of canvas with a dark slick, the gesture is determined to signify the effort of the man and his current density. Is it by the hand of the same man?
The slick is beginning to drip; in his final gesture a delicate vermilion wound is positioned close to the center…all is tallied...it is finished.
In 1961 the painting now known as 'Yellow Islands’ was then titled simply ‘Painting’. The provenance of the work is that Painting went directly from Pollock’s estate to the Tate, via Marlborough Fine Art, London. Marlborough had a show* of Pollock’s work (including “Yellow Islands”) in 1961, which is the year the Friends of the Tate purchased it.
*Jackson Pollock: Paintings, Drawings & Watercolors from the collection of Lee Krasner. June 1961
Simon Withers is an Artist and Gallery Assistant based in Nottingham.