Pollock Meets Japanese Poetry in Collage

Jackson Pollock, Collage and Oil, c. 1951, oil, ink, gouache and paper collage on canvas

Jackson Pollock, Collage and Oil, c. 1951, oil, ink, gouache and paper collage on canvas; overall: 50 in x 35 in; 127 cm x 88.9 cm. Acquired 1958. The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C.

Jackson Pollock began making collages in 1943 at the invitation of Peggy Guggenheim, who organized an international Exhibition of Collage at her gallery Art of This Century. The Phillips’s Collage and Oil, executed in 1951, is probably one of Pollock’s last collages.

According to Head of Conservation Elizabeth Steele, Pollock placed torn pieces of Japanese paper and Western paper that he had first painted with ink or black paint and a pink ochre gouache on top of canvas in layers of red earth, pink, and black. After gluing the torn paper sections onto the painted canvas, Pollock splattered the entire composition with an Indian yellow paint and white gouache.

Collages, or pictures assembled from a variety of materials, have an ancient history. In the 12th century, Japanese calligraphers copied poems on sheets of paper that were composed of irregularly shaped pieces of delicately tinted papers. Tiny flowers, birds, and stars made from gold and silver paper were sprinkled over the composition. When the torn or cut edges of the papers were brushed with ink, their wavy contours represented mountains, rivers, or clouds. The calligrapher selected from such papers the one most appropriate to the spirit of a particular poem, which he then wrote out in an elegant hand.

Example of 12th-century Japanese calligraphy on collage paper.

Example of 12th-century Japanese calligraphy on collage paper.

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