Jackson Pollock's 'Galaxy': Outer Space and Artist's Space in Abstract
Among the early "breakthrough" paintings in Jackson Pollock's development
of Abstract Expressionism is a small canvas entitled 'Galaxy.' Painted
in 1947 with oil, aluminum paint, and gravel on canvas, it is an early
example of the drip paintings for which the artist would become famous.
With its overlapping skeins of paint, the work defies traditional Renaissance
perspective systems in order to present an ambiguous sense of space that
hovers simultaneously between the real flat space of the two-dimensional
canvas and the illusion of the infinite space of the cosmos. In this paper
I will explore the importance of astronomical space and the night sky for
the evolution of Pollock's mature style. By examining 'Galaxy,' together
with two other canvases from 1947, 'Reflections of the Big Dipper' and
'Come,' I will argue that Pollock's thinking about what his colleague,
painter Willem de Kooning, termed "the misery of the scientists' space
[with] billions and billions of hunks of matter, hot or cold, floating
around in darkness according to a great design of aimlessness," had a profound
impact of Pollock's conception of space in painting.
In order to place Pollock's works in context, I will examine earlier
uses of the night sky by artists striving toward a vocabulary of abstraction:
Georgia O'Keefe's 'Starry Night' and series 'Light Coming on the Plain'
(1917), Alfred Stieglitz's 'Equivalents' (1920s), Alexander Calder's 'Universe'
(ca. 1934), Joan Miro's series 'Constellations' (1940-43), and David Smith's
'Star Cage' (1950). I will also position Pollock's paintings of astronomical
themes against the presentation of astronomy in popular culture of the
late 1940s and early 50s, especially in advertising, film, and popular
Finally, I will compare Pollock's representations of outer space to
the works of his contemporaries, including de Kooning, Barnett Newman,
and Mark Rothko, to demonstrate that Pollock's search for ways to, as he
put it "express this age, the airplane, the atom bomb, the radio" led to
new ways of conceiving artistic space through the metaphor of outer space.
[This paper would not lend itself to presentation in the form of a poster.
Please also note that I am submitted two paper proposals, in hopes of having