PRINT November 1972

Jungian Aspects of Jackson Pollock’s Imagery

WHILE JACKSON POLLOCK’S INTEREST in high art was paramount, the theories of Carl Gustav Jung were also important as a means of realizing an expression that was both individual and universal in its implications. This aspect of Pollock, while widely known, has not been sufficiently explored, nor has it even received proper credit as a motivating force within his development.

Pollock’s knowledge of Jung’s work seems to have begun in 1934 when, as a janitor at the City and Country School in New York City, he met Helen Marot, a teacher interested in Jungian psychology. Through her guidance, he would have been aware of Jung’s latest writings, for she knew Mrs. Cary Baynes who translated Jung’s writings for English language publication both in England and in the United States under the auspices of the Analytical Psychology Club of New York.1

A letter from Sanford Pollock to his brother Charles in July 1937, states that he, Sandy, had taken Jackson to “a well recommended Doctor, a Psychiatrist, . . . some six months” previously.2 Art therapy may have been used in this treatment, for it was Pollock who suggested to Henderson in 1939 that he use drawings as a basis of psychological analysis.3 The painter was at the Westchester Division of New York Hospital in treatment for acute alcoholism from June to September, 1938. Early in 1939, for 18 months until the summer of 1940, Pollock was in analysis with the Jungian psychologist, Joseph L. Henderson. (Henderson is included in Man and His Symbols, a collection of essays edited by Jung and published in 1964 as a popular introduction to Jungian thought.) After Henderson left for San Francisco, Pollock consulted Dr. Violet Staub de Laszlow, a prominent Jungian who later edited Psyche and Symbol (1958) and the Modern Library Basic Writings (1959) of Jung.4 This relationship lasted at least two years, possibly longer.5

In the fall of 1943 Pollock sought a different treatment, with a homeopathic physician in New York, whom he visited more or less regularly until his death.6 Five years later, in 1948, he received help that seemed effective from a general practitioner in East Hampton: “He is an honest man, I can believe him,” was Pollock’s explanation to his wife.7 Two years later (1950) Pollock was drinking again. From March 1951 to June 1952 he consulted a woman psychiatrist specializing in alcoholism and took part in group therapy sessions, only to discontinue them when the doctor objected to the nature of his concurrent biochemical treatment, which lasted for two years, beginning in September 1951. Then, in the summer of 1955, he reentered analysis with Ralph Klein, a clinical psychologist of the Sullivanian Institute.8

The listing of professional treatments Pollock underwent is not an exhaustive probe, but it is fair to say that Pollock’s contacts with Jungian thought are strongest early in his career. In fact, he had immediate access to Jung’s writings and ideas from the mid-’30s to the early ’40s. Also, it seems as if Pollock gave up on psychological means and favored the physiological for the better part of that career, that is, from around 1943 to early 1951, mid-1952 to 1955. Nonetheless, weeks before his death in 1956, Pollock said in reference to the labels ‘nonobjective’ and ‘nonrepresentational,’ “I’m very representational some of the time, and a little all of the time. But when you’re painting out of your unconscious, figures are bound to emerge. We’re all of us influenced by Freud, I guess. I’ve been a Jungian for a long time.”9

Mrs. Lee Krasner Pollock recalls that Pollock referred to his sessions with Dr. Henderson as having been important to him.10 Yet, in 1939 Henderson was only in his first year of practice and has since admitted having to cope with the problem of his own counter-transference:

I wonder why I neglected to find out, study or analyze his personal problems in the first year of his work. . . . I wonder why I did not seem to try to cure his alcoholism. . . . I have decided that it is because his unconscious drawings brought me strongly into a state of counter-transference to the symbolic material he produced. Thus I was compelled to follow the movement of his symbolism as inevitably as he was motivated to produce it.11

Thus, personal problems were not the issue, but “symbolic material” was. As Jungians are schooled in mythology and anthropology, Henderson probably dealt with such information in his sessions with the artist. “Most of my comments centered around the nature of the archetypal symbolism in his drawings,” Henderson later wrote to B. H. Friedman, Pollock’s most recent biographer.12

Pollock we know was interested in American Indian cultures. It is noteworthy that 20 years later, in “Ancient Myths and Modern Man,” the chapter which Henderson contributed to Man and His Symbols, the psychologist used as many examples from folk tales of American Indians as from Greek myths.

Pollock therefore was cognizant of the areas of psychology and American anthropology so important to the New York painters in the early ’40s—earlier than were most other American painters of his generation. In addition, his attitudes resulted from an internal need rather than from a programmatic artistic development. In Pollock’s case, the Jungian intonation preceded the fashionable psychological stress (primarily Freudian) which accompanied the absorption of Surrealist thinking in this country during World War II.

Jung’s 1932 article on “Picasso,” his only article devoted to a painter, may have been known to Pollock in 1940 when a translation appeared in New York, or even earlier through the offices of his Jungian friends. There Jung states that a

series of images begins as a rule with the symbol of the Nekyia—the journey to Hades, the descent into the unconscious. . . . The journey through the psychic history of mankind has as its object the restoration of the whole man, whole with regard to the bipolarity of human nature. After the symbols of madness experienced during the period of disintegration there follow images which represent the coming together of the opposites: light/dark, above/below, white/black, male/female, etc.13

The ideas of a journey into the unconscious, often called the “night sea journey,” and the coming together of opposites abound in Jung’s writings as well as in his students’ discussions, so that this particular article, though surely of interest to Pollock, need not be the sole source of these ideas. The disintegration of conflicting opposites might find its painterly analogue in Pollock’s early allover abstraction in which light/dark and warm/cool colors frenetically interrupt each other in short brushstrokes (fig. 1).

Most of Pollock’s paintings before 1942 can be dated only approximately.14 They show great diversity of subject matter and style. The subjects may be loosely classified as figure groups and less frequently single figure studies, stylized landscapes with and without figures, purely symbolic forms, and forms so thoroughly abstracted as to only arbitrarily belong to the above groupings. When the animal is part of a figure group in these earlier works, it is as a separate entity and man is present in some connected way, as, for instance, horse and rider. At a point which seems simultaneous with the entry of stylistic elements derived from Picasso, animal and human parts are con joined in the same figure. Such a metamorphosis is clearly present in a work called Painting of around 1938 (fig. 2). Lawrence Alloway feels the point of departure for this work was a late Cubist still life such as the 1925 Studio with Plaster Head or Ram’s Head by Picasso.15 If this is so, it doesn’t entirely account for the emotional effect communicated by the inverted human head, upward-thrust clenched fist, and downward-piercing beak shape.

Painting may be the earliest example of one of Pollock’s preferred formats: a horizontal rectangle with registers above and below and closed off at the sides, a type more fully developed in Guardians of the Secret and Pasiphaë of 1943 and furthered with variations in Night Mist of 1944 and Numbers 11 and 14 of 1951, to cite the most important. While Picasso and the Mexican muralists are clearly influential in Painting, William Blake may have also contributed to the conception of the picture in terms of both content and format. The 1936 Fantastic Art, Dada, and Surrealism exhibition held at the Museum of Modern Art included precursors of these movements and kindred works by artists of earlier centuries. A plate from Blake’s Illustrations of the Book of Job is listed and illustrated in the influential catalogue: “With dreams upon my bed, Thou scarest me and affrightest me with Visions” (fig. 3). Certainly such a personal religious view would have appealed to Pollock. His partiality to Blake is clear, for a work by that artist was one of the illustrations which Pollock had tacked on his Long Island studio wall.16

Jungians stress the importance of Job’s perception of God as a dual power. Blake expresses this duality in his depiction of God, whose leg metamorphoses from a manlike calf to a cloven hoof. And the text which Blake engraved just above this image, from II Corinthians, reads: “Satan him self is transformed into an Angel of Light. . . .” Job, outstretched upon a bed pushes away the hovering Satan-God who is depicted with pointed tufts of hair. Muscular arms loop up from flames below and tug at Job. At the top register are ”stone tables of the Law" from which emanate “the lightnings of damnation.”17 In Pollock’s Painting the horizontal registrations with wider implications than a purely sexual reference may well owe much to this composition by Blake. Pollock’s painting, however, resembles the etching only in general tone, in the undulating lower area and menacing pointed form above. Pollock has felt the need to leave more space at the sides. On the left, in fact, are two elements which correspond to specific shapes in the etching: an arc similar to half the stone tables and a zigzag like the bolt of lightning; both elements are seen laterally.

The Painting remains much more personal than any of its possible iconographic sources. Certainly some private symbolism is intended. Perhaps the beaked birdlike head may represent reputed spiritual qualities, a false god with the capacity to torture. The object of its wrath is a human/bull-or-horse head, itself symbolic perhaps of more earthy, impulsive qualities. A sentence from Jung’s discussion of Job is apposite:

Here Job is voicing the torment of soul caused by the onslaught of unconscious desires; the libido festers in his flesh, a cruel God has overpowered him and pierced him through with barbed thoughts that agonize his whole being.

Jung goes on to comment (C.W., V, pp. 289–90):

The same image occurs in Nietzsche:
Stretched out, shivering,
Like one half dead whose feet are warmed,
Shaken by unknown fevers,
Shuddering from the icy pointed arrows of frost,
Hunted by thee, O thought,
Unutterable! veiled! horrible one!
Thou huntsman behind the clouds.
Struck to the ground by thee,
Thou mocking eye that gazeth at me from the dark:
Thus do I lie,
Twisting, writhing, tortured
With eternal tortures,
By thee, cruel huntsman,
Thou unknown—God!

Pollock probably looked at the volume in which Jung wrote these lines, Psychology of the Unconscious, in a chapter entitled, “The Battle for Deliverance from the Mother.”

At about the same time as Painting, Pollock executed a vertical canvas of more dense and masklike interlocked shapes (fig. 4). Its title, Birth, may have more than one meaning. There are similarities with Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon, the painting generally regarded as heralding the birth of Cubism, and one which Pollock especially liked.18 In addition to Pollock’s strident use of mask forms and a cascading composition, the bent “leg” in the lower left part of the painting recalls the leg of the squatting woman in the Picasso canvas. The head of the same figure in the Picasso is cupped in a variation on the crescent shape of the’ melon slice beside her leg. Such shapes seem to form each of the circular “masks” of the Pollock. That these tele scoping, tumbling forms can be read as masks is clear from an untitled painting of about 1936 in which Pollock depicts a standing male nude, rather like an archaic Kouros except that the head is represented by the same mask-and-crescent form which is multiplied in Birth.19 The masks of Birth acquire an additional resonance when we realize Pollock seems to innovate upon just that section of the Demoiselles in which the derivation from the ritual mask is most extreme.

Pollock’s leg has an odd terminus, rather like the end of a hollow cylinder. The analogous Picasso leg terminates behind a still life in which there is a similar round shape, probably an apple. There may be a larger reason for the existence of this aperture at the end of a limb. It could represent the place from which life emerges and into which life-forming substance is put: Jung treats most symbols as bisexual in nature. In fact, an illustration from Jung’s Symbols of Transference, first published in the United States in 1916 as Psychology of the Unconscious, depicts people walking out of a large hollow tube, a “birth-giving orifice” of Mexican mythology (C.W., V, p. 125, fig. 5).

That Pollock’s circular mask-beings emerge from between the legs is not surprising. The up raised fingers to the right of this area, quite Picasso-like, and similar to those in the upper left of Demoiselles d’Avignon, comprise the most naturalistic element in the picture. Such a distinction calls to our attention the fact that the hand is the immediate means of creating a painting, and perhaps this could be an additional meaning for Pollock’s title. Tony Smith, the sculptor, says that Pollock was very curious about the idea of having children and asked questions of Smith, father of four, implying that he related human offspring to the production of art: “He was always asking what it was like. Did they seem a part of you, an extension of you? . . . It was almost as if he thought you could have some kind of control over what they would be like—even as babies. It must have been the way he thought about art.”20

In 1939 Henderson formed the opinion that “a psychic birth-death-rebirth cycle was essential to the maintenance of Pollock’s sanity.”21 This is a widely held Jungian concept and would certainly have been known to Pollock before he met Henderson, and therefore, could figure in the painting’s heritage at whatever date the painting was made.

Birth was exhibited in a group show of American and French paintings selected by John Graham early in 1942 at McMillen, Inc., New York City. Pollock probably sought the acquaintance of this cosmopolitan artist after the appearance of Graham’s article, “Primitive Art and Picasso,” in the Magazine of Art of April, 1937. In his paper, which is steeped in Jung, Graham spoke of the collective unconscious as having manifested itself throughout the ages in meaningful forms which the present-day unconscious is capable of receiving. He felt this force was most evident in the design of primitive art and in Picasso’s work after 1927. As Picasso, Jung, and the art of tribal cultures, specifically the Indians of the American Southwest, were all important to Pollock, there was certainly matter in the article to delight him. But the degree of Graham’s influence is hard to pinpoint, as is Graham’s work of the time.

One of Pollock’s paintings, at least, seems to bear some relation to Graham. Bird (fig. 6), tentatively dated c. 1941, is marked by the color preferences associated with Graham: cerulean blue, red, white, black outlining. Such a heraldic combination of images must reflect a will to meaning. The single eye hovering in the sky might imply spirituality and possibly godliness; in a 1943 explication of Jung’s psychology, such a floating eye was the “Eye of God,” and for the patient who drew it, interpreted to be “a symbol of the Self.”22 The bird’s body is another variation on the mask motif. The top half, including the wings, stands against the sky while the lower portion is in the darkness of the bottom half of the picture, in which two human heads extend from opposite poles of a glowing, golden orb. The heads are only minimally differentiated—symmetry was important in this painting—but the differences in the rendering of noses and mouths convince me that the heads must be female and male. The female nose is marked by nostrils (openings), while the male nose is a protruding shape; the female lips seem fuller and softer than the male.

Considered diagrammatically, the painting could be interpreted as the balance and conjoining of male and female qualities in the treasured legion of the unconscious. From this harmonious balance, one’s conscious state may realize its highest possibilities. This heavy, even dogmatic, treatment contrasts sharply with Pollock’s usual multivalent references, both artistic and symbolic, a multivalence which provokes a more mysterious interest and more closely approximates the complexities of Jungian interpretation.

Pollock’s painting of 1942–1946 is more “of a piece” than the early work but still shows great diversity. Imagery contributes to the seeming consistency, for Pollock has largely settled on a composition of one or two or more abstract personages. This concentration on human/animal imagery is exercised with varying degrees of figure readability and of figure-on-ground versus an allover interaction of forms. A theoretical position would make us want to see this stylistic variation establish a progression leading into the allover drip paintings. If one selects the proper paintings, this can be done. However, contemporaneous with such “development,” Pollock continued to paint legible figures against distinct grounds, as in The Child Proceeds of 1946.23 It seems that Pollock’s attitude at this time favors what he is saying as much as how he says it. Indeed, Robert Motherwell, with whom he was briefly associated in the early ’40s, wrote prophetically in 1944 that Pollock’s “principle problem is to discover what his true subject is. And since painting is his thought’s medium, the resolution must grow out of the process of his painting itself.”24

Moon Woman of 1942 (fig. 7), a painting included in Pollock’s first one-man show held in Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century gallery in 1943, clearly derives from Pollock’s Jungian interests, as its title attests. For Jung, the moon is a symbol of periodic creation, death (when invisible), and recreation. Most important to Pollock, perhaps, the moon represents the Diana-Hecate dualism: the young girl, anima-spirit, contrasted with the all-devouring Terrible Mother. The painting, Moon Woman, with its cursive arabesques and the slim aspect of its stick figure, appears to deal with the anima-spirit: “vague feelings and moods, prophetic hunches, receptiveness to the irrational, capacity for personal love, feelings for nature, and [a man’s] relation to the unconscious.”25

This picture, unlike many of the period, is easily experienced as capricious and delightful, though sinister overtones are present as well. The eye pierces a crescent shape which produces little scratches of tears or blood, and a version of the conventional Picasso profile is soberly incorporated into what at first seemed the back side of the lady’s head.

Guardians of the Secret, 1943, while not much larger than Moon Woman, suggests the incipient monumentalism of the later Pollock (fig. 8). Its rectangular sectioning, working in from the framing edge, provides a structure similar to both the ground plan and the post-and-lintel elevation of a Greek temple, a structure which also bears testimony to Mondrian’s presence in New York. The vertical guardians flanking the center, which houses the inner chaos of the secret—the casket or bed or altar—are most likely male and female figures, the alchemical King and Queen, Sol and Luna. Which is male and which is female remains unanswered, though most probably the female is on the left, as was the case in Bird and as is consistent with Jung’s historical and psychological data.

The lower guardian, an alert dog, derives from the animal world and is also the least abstracted figure. From him, an ability to decipher the images decreases in moving upward through the flanking figures to the upper register, and intelligibility is confounded altogether in the central area. The forms which emerge from this center seem to occupy the two adjacent registers of background in the upper section. This background duality may refer to the higher and lower aspects of conscious ideas, emerging from the undifferentiated unconscious. These “ideas” are more conceptualized than the instinctual animal world. In this sense, then, the painting can be understood to represent both the manifestations of, as well as the guardians of, that central secret, the unconscious.

Such a diagrammatic interpretation of the painting is consonant with the fact that Jungians diagram all aspects of the psyche—the ego, the unconscious, the sphere of consciousness, to name but a few. However, Jungian diagrams are most frequently circular, radiating from a center and divided into four parts which contain no figure. If Pollock’s composition represents a Jungian scheme, it has been entirely remodeled.

Pasiphaë of 1943 uses a similar design format (fig. 9). Geometry is not nearly so evident, however; the strongest internal boundary is the broken ellipse in which the central struggle takes place. There appears to be an “audience” in the double flanking figures, now four in all. In Jung’s writings four is a symbol of wholeness and completeness, and the number plays a prominent role in his discussions of the process of individuation: the four developmental stages of the anima; the four functions of consciousness thought, intuition, feeling, sensation; or the four elements of the physical world whose alchemical interaction provides an analogy for that process. The four beings who witness the central event might locate it in some such psychic drama.

According to William S. Lieberman, Pollock’s first title for this painting was The White Whale; according to Bryan Robertson, Moby Dick.26 Pollock only changed it to Pasiphaë at the enthusiastic insistence of James Johnson Sweeney, the curator of the Museum of Non-Objective Art, now the Guggenheim. One must remember that Pollock took great care in choosing titles but that it was generally after the completion of the painting that he dealt with this problem. The central motif of Pasiphaë seems equally as much a woman astride a bull as a white whale pursued by Ahab. Whatever the final title, each of the possibilities concerns the obsession of a human being with an allegorical animal. “In mythology,” Jung notes, “the unconscious is portrayed as a great animal, for instance . . . as a whale, wolf or dragon,” and since the equivalent area in Guardians of the Secret was the unconscious, the elliptical arena of Pasiphaë may symbolize the unconscious as well (C.W., XIV, p. 210).

In this ellipse a sticklike figure struggles with a larger animal-being, white shot with yellows, pale blue and lavender and whose flailing limbs, neither distinctly bull nor whale, end in toes and possibly fingers. Whether the action be a sexual or tragic agon is of little consequence to the overall Jungian view, in which the “conjunctio” takes place in the “vessel,” here the ellipse, which “is also called the grave”; the union is understood to be a “shared death,” with rebirth following. The striving for this union—fully achieved psychic integration and the attendant expansion of understanding—is the central concern of Jung’s work and, quite certainly, of Pollock’s paintings.

Moby Dick was a favorite book of Pollock’s." He fully appreciated the symbol for which he named his picture. There can be no doubt that he meant to represent the quest and anger and engagement with a central force potent enough to bite off one’s leg—to castrate.

Unlike Pasiphaë, the animal imagery of She-Wolf is readily identifiable (fig. 10). The large wolf occupies the major portion of the composition; a central, rectangular area is marked by the ground line, foreleg, and a straight line somewhat near the creature’s back. This central area, so different from that of Pasiphaë, is devoid of activity, especially in contrast with the swirling lines and overpainting at the edges of the picture. This barren area is occupied by the creature’s teats, a place of nourishment. Just where Romulus and Remus ought to suckle if we accept as Pollock’s source the Etruscan statue of the she-wolf with the Renaissance addition of infants, there is studiously nothing. The absent nurslings may find a counterpart in a drawing Pollock had given to Henderson several years earlier, in which a human mother raises her hand in denial against the child seeking her breast.28

Jung mentions the Roman she-wolf in his Psychology of the Unconscious, with which Pollock was probably acquainted. In the same chapter, “The Dual Mother,” Jung describes the psychosis of a possessive mother who in a delirium, “at the time of the climacteric . . . [ran] about on all fours, howling like a wolf . . . She had herself become the symbol of the all-devouring mother” (C.W., V, pp. 321, 328).

The relation of both the mother and a large animal with the unconscious is clear in Jung’s writings, as is the fact that every mythical element has positive and negative aspects. In the She-Wolf, Pollock has presented an animal with power over life and death. The teats exhibit her life-giving function; the absence of children indicates her more fearful aspects. Pollock’s comment on the painting was:

She-Wolf came into existence because I had to paint it. Any attempt on my part to say something about it, to attempt explanation of the inexplicable, could only destroy it.29

There is a specific instance where Pollock uses an American Indian image published by Jung. Sir Herbert Read, one of the editors of Jung’s Collected Works, wrote in 1961 to Lawrence Alloway of a Haida Indian tattoo pattern representing the woman in the moon comparable to Pollock’s Moon Woman Cuts the Circle of 1943 (figs. 11 and 12). Read also mentioned a “reference on the same page to a Hottentot legend about ‘cutting off a sizable piece’ of the moon.”30 The legend in question actually refers to the sun, but this does not dilute the source of Pollock’s title. Jung illustrates the tattoo in Psychology of the Unconscious in the chapter on ”The Dual Mother."

In this chapter, Longfellow’s Hiawatha was used as a framework upon which Jung discussed the nature of the son’s relationship to the mother, with the specific intention of illustrating that the act of breaking away from the mother is itself a form of death necessary to begin a new life. “Young Hiawatha asks his grandmother what the moon really is. She tells him that the moon is the body of a grandmother who had been thrown up there by one of her warlike grandchildren in a fit of rage.” Jung then relates this concept to “the throwing upward of the mother, her fall and birthpangs” (C.W., V, pp. 317–318). The Hottentot legend next put forward is again meant to illustrate a human birth from a heavenly body.

These origins come into play in Jung’s further discussion of Hiawatha’s relationships to his grandmother, nature, dead mother, and bride. It may be possible to make an intricate, direct interpretation of the painting from Jung’s text, but perhaps it is wiser to let the matter stand as Pollock’s personal translation of the ideas of birth, entry into the mother-unconscious, and cutting loose, the emergence into the outer world in a state of renewed fruitfulness.

Alloway’s text implies that it is the figure on the right in Moon Woman Cuts the Circle which is based on the tattoo. However, its swinging counter gestures strain the similarity, which I find only in the arc-curve of the body and in the billowy contour of the legs. Pollock has even added a feather headdress to this creature. The little semicircular entity in the disintegrating red circle, because of its vague sketchiness, can be seen as nearer to the Haida figure. But this concerns only the visual motif. The title and context of the picture clearly do relate to Jung.

What is more, Pollock employed the tattoo in another painting. It is quite recognizable as the figure floating at the top center of Guardians of the Secret, but reversed to face the opposite direction. It hovers in what might be the realm of conscious ideas, midway between the heads of the male and female. This symbol of woman in the moon, emerging from the unconscious, might serve as mediator between man and his anima, “the woman within.” As Jung says, "the assimilation of contrasexual tendencies . . . becomes a task that must be fulfilled [in the second half of life] in order to keep the libido in a state of progression.”31

Another variation of this motif can be found in Night Sounds of 1944 (fig. 13). The crescent moon is clearly mounted on a neck and the negative spaces in the little figure now can be read as features of a face. Chalked next to “her” in this painting is a motif we’ve met before: the winged figure of Bird, without its wings. The embryolike form in the “body” of the bird itself resembles an upside-down variation on the Haida tattoo. The bird could now be a much-demeaned (in relation to the moon) “sun-disc equipped with . . . feet.” Similarly, it could be a particle either to be subsumed into the growing moon, or just cut away from the waning moon. For each of these possibilities there are male/female, consciousness/unconsciousness analogies.

Thus we see Pollock borrowing a specific Jungian motif and welding it into more complex situations and even new formal versions but nonetheless respecting the “moonness” of the motif and, in one instance, even its “Indianness.” Similar sources probably may be found for many of the frequently repeated motifs in Pollock’s work. They need not always come from primitive art through Jung’s publications, although this seems a likely source. In going through Pollock’s papers, Bernice Rose came across many references to articles and books by or about Jung.32

It is noteworthy that Pollock has chosen images from Jung that were originally produced on the American continent. The rationale for this may derive from Jung himself: he specifically states that his allusion to the Indian legend of Hiawatha has greater validity because it is used in interpreting the writings of an American (C.W., V, p. 313).

One of the later paintings from the 1942–1946 period is Circumcision of 1946, which was shown in the spring of the same year (fig. 14). It may well be one of the pictures Clement Greenberg found, “at first sight crowded and repetitious reveal[ing] on second sight an infinity of dramatic movement and variety.”33

Circumcision, an initiation “rite of death and rebirth, which provides the novice with a ‘rite of passage’ from one stage of life to the next,” as explained by Henderson, is the “break with the original parent archetype” and the beginning of “assimilation into the life of the group.” Man “gives himself to his assigned role in the community” and “becomes more consciously related to woman.”34

As one unravels the “dramatic movement” of the painting, a ground line becomes apparent. Beneath this line, at the left half, lies the boy undergoing the initiation. It is here that Pollock chose to put his signature. The ground band is balanced by a less distinct top area and the space in between appears vertically divided approximately in thirds. In the middle section I find the figure of a grown man in a “snowshoveling” posture, presumably inflicting the wound upon the boy. Above the man are violent lightning forms. Perched on a post to the man’s right may be the figure of an owl, traditional representative of darkness and death, not very auspicious but indicative of one aspect of the ceremony.

Black and white reproductions increase the difficulty involved in “reading” the other two sections which, unlike that of the man, seem to continue into the upper area. Each could be a giant cult figure, such as one Pollock had drawn for Henderson several years earlier.35 On the right one can make out a seated man with a tattooed body smoking a pipe and, on the left, a standing woman whose eye focuses downward on the boy’s head in a reciprocally-crossed beam. The triangle superimposed on her head, as well as its balancing counterpart below, recall Matisse’s Piano Lesson (1916–17), acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in 1946, the very year of Pollock’s painting. Incidentally, in the Matisse, a representation of a woman sits over and behind a boy. Perhaps these large scale beings in Pollock’s painting represent the parent archetypes, or the future grown-up life, or both.

In the year 1947, Pollock elaborated his allover drip technique. To one of the early paintings of this period (1947–1950) he gave the title Alchemy (fig. 15).36 It was Jung who focused on the study of alchemy when, in the late 1920 s he “had found a quotation in literature that [he] thought might have some connection with early Byzantine alchemy,” and in 1929 his Commentary on the Golden Flower first presented his interest in the symbolical significance of alchemy for modern psychology.37 His lectures at the Eranos conferences in 1935 and 1936 dealt with the subject again; they were translated and published in New York in 1939 and later formed the basis of Psychology and Alchemy, published 1944. Further studies followed, but it is clear that Jung’s main concepts on the importance of alchemy were available to New Yorkers by the late ’30s and certainly by the mid-’40s.

Alchemical evolution is epitomized by the formula, Solve et Coagula (dissolve and congeal): “analyze all the elements in yourself, dissolve all that is inferior in you, even though you may break in doing so; then, with the strength acquired from the preceding operation, congeal.”38 Cirlot, the Spanish poet, art critic, and symbology expert, explains, “The four stages of the process were signified by different colors, as follows: black (guilt, origin, latent forces) for ‘prime matter’ (a symbol of the soul in its original condition); white (minor work, first transmutation, quicksilver); red (sulphur, passion); and, finally, gold.” These are the colors of Pollock’s Alchemy, with yellow instead of gold, to which aluminum has been added to mediate between the lightdark contrasts. Did Pollock title the work only after he noticed fire colors and melting forms; or did the motto solve et coagula guide him in its facture?

Pollock had always had a predilection for equalizing the paint activity across the surface of his canvas, manifested in varying ways from his paintings as a Thomas Hart Benton student to Flame, from Stenographic Figure to Circumcision. In Eyes in the Heat and Shimmering Substance of 1946, as William Rubin points out, “fragments of Pollock’s earlier totemistic presences are covered by the rhythmical linear pattern of white paint which dominates their surfaces.”39 Alchemy appears to be one of the first attempts to deal with paint interactions in such a way that the underlying figure is not necessary. Paint movement itself, as an analogy to other, deeper processes, can become the subject. While I think the process of painting prompted Pollock’s stylistic ”breakthrough," it is entirely likely that Jung’s concept of the process of psychic individuation provided important confirmation for the new style.

Curiously, it seems that Pollock added some “figures” to the top layers of this painting. I read an asterisk-star, a numeral “4,” a space, and a numeral “6” from left to right laid on in thick white paint. The “4” and the “6” show up in enough other works to merit attention. In an untitled drawing of around 1943 they are scattered across the “body” of a figure reminiscent of the Venus of Willendorf, and “6 4” is plainly written at the lower part of the body of Wounded Animal, 1943. To Jung, four represented completeness; six, with even and uneven factors, represented the hermaphrodite or fusion of male and female, and could be “most skilled in begetting” and a representative of “marriage and harmony” (C.W., XVI, p. 238, n. 8). As Jung never underestimated numbers, I feel that Pollock is here, in a marginally abstract manner, indicating what is going on in his work. Lee Krasner Pollock once asked him about the numbers “4” and “6” and “he insisted that ‘46’ was his magic number.” She went on to explain that he had lived at 46 East 8th Street and his address at West Houston, she believed, had been 46.40

Alchemy was shown early in 1948 at the Betty Parsons Gallery. The titles of most of the sixteen other paintings in that show might be classed under the headings “sky” and “sea”: Shooting Star, Comet, Reflections of the Big Dipper; Sea Change, Full Fathom Five, Watery Paths; and, in between, Lucifer, Vortex, and Phosphorescence. These titles, Mrs. Pollock has explained, were the result of a group effort. Just before the paintings were sent off to the Betty Parsons Gallery, the Pol-locks’ neighbors Mary and Ralph Manheim came over to Pollock’s studio and the four of them had a naming session. Everybody contributed, with Pollock vetoing or approving titles. Largely, it was the Manheims’ titles which were used, Mrs. Pollock remembers.41

By the 1949 exhibition, all works were numbered. It is worth reviewing Pollock’s choice of titles. Almost two-thirds of the individual titles of these paintings attest to a new interest in nature. In the 1947 exhibition the works were divided into two series: Sounds in the Grass and Accabonac Creek. These nature themes reflect the fact that Pollock moved to Long Island in November 1945; the summer of 1946, when he would have painted the works for the January 1947 show, was his first summer of exploration in his countryside territory. Before that, in the spring show of 1946, his titles were more specifically related to Jungian themes: Circumcision, The Troubled Queen, The Little King, High Priestess, Once Upon a Time. They are urban ideas, taken from books rather than from nature. The 1945 titles clustered around black, totems, -and the night: Horizontal on Black, Square on Black, The Totem—Lesson I, The Totem—Lesson The Night Dancer, The First Dream, Night Ceremony, Night Mist, Night Magic. In 1943 the titles centered on the moon and the male-andfemale themes.

Despite these generalizations, we can clearly see Pollock’s ideas moving from Jungian mythical concepts to natural phenomena. Jung is not forgotten, though. For one thing, his theme of the “night sea journey” of the psyche through the unconscious may inform the sea titles of the 1948 exhibition, or at least Pollock’s receptiveness to such titles. Constellation titles allude to Jung as well.

Early in 1949 Pollock’s show at the Parsons Gallery heralded the change to paintings designated, by numbers. The accompanying descriptive titles -which sometimes emerged were mostly names of colors, although references to nature and an object did slip in: Shadows, Summertime, White Cockatoo, The Wooden Horse, (and Arabesque). At the end of that year, the next show had only Out of the Web and Birds of Paradise as subtitles for two of the 34 paintings. The latter must be a later addition for Mrs. Pollock had never heard of it. In 1950 the exceptions were Lavender Mist, titled by Clement Greenberg, Shadows, probably a later name, Autumn Rhythm, Pollock’s own title, and One, again Pollock’s own, but the result of a somewhat forced situation.42

Alfonso Ossorio, Pollock’s friend, wrote the introduction for the late 1951 exhibition catalogue at the Parsons Gallery and at Pollock’s request, it was reprinted in the 1952 Museum of Modern Art catalogue for the Fifteen Americans exhibition. It has a markedly Jungian ring:

The attention focused on his immediate qualities . . . has left largely untouched the forces that compel him to work in the manner that he does. . . .
His painting confronts us with a visual concept organically evolved from a belief in the unity that underlies the phenomena among which we live Void and solid, human action and inertia, are metamorphosed and refined into the energy that sustains them and is their common denominator.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The present group of paintings is done with an austerity of means that underlies their protean character: thin paint and raw canvas are the vehicles for images full of the compulsion of dreams and the orderliness of myth. . . . [The paintings] both reawaken in us the sense of personal struggle and its collective roots and recall to us the too easily forgotten fact that ‘what is without is within.’

Ossorio’s final quote is probably from Jung. As so many efforts have been devoted to describing the nature of the space in Pollock’s painting, I would like to give in full one of Jung’s famous “within-without” passages as an alternative prospect:

I can only stop and gaze with admiration and awe at the depths and heights of our psychic nature. Its nonspatial world conceals an untold abundance of images that have been amassed and organically consolidated during millions of years of development. My consciousness is like an eye that contains in itself the most distant spaces, yet it is the psychic nonego that fills them nonspatially. And these images are not pale shadows, but tremendously powerful psychic factors. The most we may be able to do is to misunderstand them, but we can never rob them of their power by denying them. Beside this picture I would like to place that of the starry vistas of the heavens at night, for the only equivalent of the world within is the world without, and just as I reach this world through the medium of the body, so I reach that world through the medium of the psyche.43

This ambivalence between the spatial and nonspatial, the natural and the psychically phenomenal is what we experience in Pollock’s now classic allover drip paintings. The drip technique evolved as Pollock dealt with the process of painting; and at this period there is seldom any imagery to analyze as “Jungian”; yet I feel Jung’s involvement with the ultimate meaningfulness of the image—its numinous quality—must be credited as one of the factors behind these magnificent “outpourings.”

The fact that Pollock discontinued his sessions with Jungian doctors need not imply a détente in his interest in Jung’s ideas. In 1951 Pollock, to use his own words, was “drawing on canvas in black—with some of my early images coming thru. . . .”44 By 1954, even his early titles had returned. Four Opposites specifically relates to Jung’s four elements of the conjunctio, while other titles call forth the night sea journey and correspondences with nature: Ocean Greyness, The Deep, Grayed, Rainbow. Easter and the Totem, Moon Vibrations, and Ritual are also versions of his interests of the mid-’40s.

As titles of the ’50s recall various phases of the titles of the ’40s, so too some of the formal solutions hark back to earlier works. Easter and the Totem, 1953, probably comes from the same. source as The Totem—Lesson II, 1945, and Male and Female, 1942: Matisse’s Bathers by a River (c. 1910–17), which in the late 1930s had “hung for a long time in the lobby of the Valentine Gallery.”45 Four Opposites, 1953, seems a slightly less linear recall of The Blue Unconscious of 1946. White Light, 1954, and Scent, 1955, are related to Eyes in the Heat and Shimmering Substance of 1946 and to the untitled allover work of around 1937.

Even a sketchy review of themes and compositional devices in Pollock’s work shows a continuing reliance upon Jungian thought and also upon Pollock’s ability to be inspired by and to assimilate qualities from the work of other artists—for his own ends. It is perhaps precipitous in terms of my research, which has concentrated on Pollock’s middle years and Jung, but I would hazard the hypothesis that in his later paintings the dialogue with other artists’ works had become a revival of his own earlier choices of art works and a dialogue with his own earlier creations. Reasons for this turning in upon himself might be found in the greater critical and public acceptance of the newly heralded Abstract Expressionist movement. In reference to his latest, more figurative works, Pollock himself said in 1951, “. . . [I] think the non-objectivists will find them disturbing—and the kids who think it simple to splash a Pollock out.”46 Thus, it was with his imagery and even with the formal solutions of the early ’40s that he apparently felt most uniquely himself, most inimitable.

Pollock’s return in the latei works to the motifs and content of the ’40s confirms the importance of Jung as a touchstone to his art. While I feel that the major impetus came from art itself, both from Pollock’s appreciation of works by other artists and from his experience with the processes inherent in making a painting, Jung provided a method of ordering concepts and of raising the personal to universal significance.

Judith Wolfe



1. C. L Wysuph, Jackson Pollock: Psychoanalytic Drawings, New York, 1970, p. 13, tells that it was Mrs. Baynes, through Helen Marot, who referred Pollock for treatment to Dr. Henderson.

2. Francis V. O’Connor, Jackson Pollock, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1967, p. 22. Unless otherwise stated, the following facts regarding Pollock’s treatments come from O’Connor’s well-researched biographical chronology.

3. Wysuph, p. 12, n. 11.

4. It is from Bernice Rose, author of Jackson Pollock: Works on Paper, Greenwich, Connecticut, 1969, that I learned of Dr. de Laszlow’s name.

5. Lee Krasner Pollock, in conversation. O’Connor, p. 25, gives no indication of duration. Wysuph, p. 18, says Pollock worked with her “for the next few years.”

6. See B. H. Friedman, Jackson Pollock, Energy Made Visible, New York, 1972, p. 170, for additional facts.

7. Francine du Plessix and Cleve Gray, “Who was Jackson Pollock?” Art in America, May–June, 1967, p. 48.

8. Friedman, pp. 172, 192, 220.

9. Seldon Rodman, Conversations with Artists, New York, 1961, p. 82.

10. In conversation, April 25, 1972.

11. Joseph L. Henderson, “Jackson Pollock: A Psychological Commentary,” unpublished essay, 1968, quoted in Wysuph, p. 14.

12. Letter of November 11, 1969, in Friedman, p. 41.

13. Carl G. Jung, Collected Works, translated by R.F.C. Hull, Princeton, 1956, XV, pp. 138, 140. Hereafter referred to as Jung, C.W. Also available in paperback: Jung, The Spirit in Man Art and Literature, Princeton, 1971.

14. Hopefully this will be clarified with the publication of the Pollock catalogue raisonné, which is in preparation under the editorship of Eugene Victor Thaw and Francis V. O’Connor.

15. Lawrence Alloway, Jackson Pollock, Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., London, June 1961, no. 26. Zervos V, pp. 445 and 443.

16. Information from Virginia Allen, consultant for the Pollock catalogue raisonné, in conversation.

17. Source given in S. Foster Damon, Blake’s Job, Providence, 1966, pp. 32, 59.

18. The similarity to the Demoiselles d’Avignon was observed by Robert Pincus-Witten in a seminar lecture, Fall 1971, City University of New York, Graduate Division. Ossorio says it was one of Pollock’s favorite paintings, in “Who was Jackson Pollock?” p. 58; Lee Krasner Pollock has confirmed this in conversation. The painting was in the Museum of Modern Art Picasso exhibition of 1939 and acquired by the museum in the same year. It had been reproduced in the 1936 MoMA catalogue Cubism and Abstract Art. The possibility remains that Birth, now dated 1937, may be considered a slightly later work, allowing for personal experience of Picasso’s Demoiselles.

19. Bryan Robertson, Jackson Pollock, London, 1960, pl. 112; Marlborough-Gerson, 1964, no. 10.

20. Ossorio, “Who was Jackson Pollock?” p. 54.

21. Wysuph, p. 21.

22. Jolande Jacobi, The Psychology of Jung, an Introduction with Illustrations, translated by K.W. Bash, New Haven, 1943, pl. G, p. 130.

23. Alloway, no. 47.

24. Robert Motherwell, Partisan Review, Winter 1944, in O’Connor, p. 31.

25. M. L. von Franz, “The Process of Individuation,” Man and His Symbols, New York, 1964, p. 177.

26. Mr. Lieberman’s account cited in Bernice Rose, Works on Paper, p. 106, n. 32; Robertson, p. 139.

27. Robertson, p. 148.

28. Wysuph, pl. 58. Henderson contributed the momentous information that “Pollock’s mother was central to his difficulties” (Wysuph, p. 17). Lee Krasner Pollock, Tony Smith, and Alfonso Ossorio affirm this judgment in “Who was Jackson Pollock?”

29. O’Connor, p. 34 (from Sidney Janis, Abstract & Surrealist Art in America, N.Y., 1944).

30. Alloway, no. 34.

31. Jung, C.W., V, p. 318. I have not come across an English language edition of Psychology of the Unconscious published prior to the Collected Works in which this illustration appears. However, since “cutting off a sizable piece” so relates to Pollock’s title and since he would have been personally interested in the content of the chapters, “Symbols of the Mother and Rebirth,” “The Battle of Deliverance from the Mother,” and “The Dual Mother,” in this classic work by Jung, one must leave the matter open for the present.

32. Ms. Rose told me of these notations among Pollock’s papers in conversation.

33. Clement Greenberg, “Art,” The Nation, April 13, 1946, p. 445.

34. Henderson, “Ancient Myths and Modern Man,” Man and His Symbols, pp. 129–133.

35. Wysuph, pl. 11; O’Connor, p. 85, lower right.

36. While I feel this title was Pollock’s own, some doubt must remain, as will be discussed in note 41 below.

37. Jung, “Approaching the Unconscious,” Man and His Symbols, p. 54.

38. In J.E. Cirlot, A Dictionary of Symbols, New York, 1960, pp. 6, 8, from P.V. Piobb, Clef universelle des sciences secrètes, Paris, 1950.

39. William Rubin, “Jackson Pollock and the Modern Tradition, Part I,” Artforum, February, 1967, p. 18. Reproduced in O’Connor, p. 89, lower right; Rose, Works on Paper, p. 35. Bernice Rose, p. 34, also relates these numbers to Jungian influences.

40. Lee Krasner Pollock in conversation. The West Houston address was 76, but 46 had been the street number at Carmine Street in 1932–33 (O’Connor, pp. 17–18). Friedman, p. 61, gives this information in connection with Wounded Animal, without mention of Jung.

41. Lee Krasner Pollock in conversation. She has affirmed that somewhere it is written down which titles were Pollock’s. Virginia Allen has not yet located that record in her work on the catalogue raisonné. Alchemy is different enough from the other titles, as is the work from the other paintings, that I feel Pollock finished it earlier, that is, early enough to have titled it himself. A point of interest: Ralph Manheim subsequently translated from the German Jolande Jacobi’s Complex, Archetype, Symbol in the Psychology of C.G. Jung, London and N.Y., 1959.

42. Mrs. Pollock’s comments on the titles of the last two exhibitions mentioned were given in conversation.

43. Jacobi in Complex, p. 189, quotes this from Jung’s introduction to Otto Kranefeldt, Secret Ways of the Mind, 1932, p. xxxix.

44. Letter of June 7, 1951, to Ossorio, quoted in O’Connor, p. 59.

45. Greenberg, “The Late Thirties in New York,” Art and Culture, 1961, Boston, p. 233.

46. From the letter to Ossorio, note 44.