Comparing Pollock and de Kooning: The Role of Duplication in the New York School

In the early 1940’s, an umbrella term, “the New York School,” was used to describe a group of painters who are now most notable for their action painting addition to the art world. Subsequent to abstract expressionism, action painting became an extension of the artists’ mind instead of just a substrate for duplicating an idea or scene. Jackson Pollock, one of the most notable artists from the New York School, is widely known for his action-painting works; however, the evolution of his artistic creations prior to his drip-style works is a vital element of his creative pilgrimage.   While the New York School was full of artists such as Pollock, de Kooning, Barnett Newman, and Mark Rothko, who are known to be cutting-edge creators and leaders of artistic movements, an element of mimicry and duplication of other works is present in many of their pieces. Pollock and de Kooning created works that looked quite visually similar, with the only extreme difference being the method in which the paint and other media was applied to the canvas. Regurgitation of subject matter, visual balance, and color scheme was present in much of the works of Pollock and de Kooning.

In the late 1930’s, Pollock began experimenting with totemic symbols and ritual, ideographic, and mythical events. Experts now believe these to be buried memories and experiences of the psyche. In 1942, he created The Moon Woman. Like many of the New York School painters, an influence of Picasso and Surrealism is present in the work. From the abstracted figures and exaggeration of deconstructed perspective and biomorphic shapes, you’re able to decipher that this is a feminine form. Like a love child between Picasso and Miró, one’s attention is captured by the flowing, almost hallucinatory essence of the woman’s misplaced face and curvaceous contours in the work. The color palette and subject matter have been compared to one of Picasso’s 1932 works, Girl Before a Mirror. (Guggenheim, 2019)  

Jackson Pollock (b. 1912, Cody, Wyoming; d. 1956, East Hampton, New York), The Moon Woman
Oil on canvas, 69” x 43 1/16”  

Pablo Picasso, Girl before a Mirror
Paris, March 14, 1932 
Oil on Canvas
64 x 51 1/4″
Museum of Modern Art
Gift of Mrs. Simon Guggenheim

Seemingly-decorative symbols create the illusion of a border on the left side of Pollock’s work, while loose, painterly-style marks grace the apparent dress and upper right corner of the composition. A visual oddity, this work has an upside-down face at the top, but when one alters their viewpoint, the face still lacks correct proportion and scale, much like Picasso’s work.

The similarities between the works of de Kooning and Pollock are first manifested in Pollock’s the Moon Woman, and de Kooning’s work, Queen of Hearts.

Willem de Kooning, Queen of Hearts, 1943-46

oil, charcoal, and pencil on fiberboard, 46 1/8”  x 27 5/8 “
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
Gift of the Joseph H. Hirshhorn Foundation, 1966

From the abstracted figures and exaggeration of deconstructed perspective and biomorphic shapes, you’re able to decipher that these are feminine forms. In Pollock’s work, the flowing, almost hallucinatory essence of the woman’s face and curvaceous contours. The same element of whimsy is present in the face of de Kooning’s work.  

Both artworks are vertically-positioned, and possess the same visual balance, with the focal point, or face, in the top quarter of the work. While de Kooning employs a more color-field style in his work, the palettes of these works are analogous and reiterate the feminine figure depicted in the pieces.

One would never discount that Pollock and de Kooning were, and continue to be, two of the most influential artists of the mid-century. Nevertheless, it is ill-informed to not compare the works between the artists and understand how their relationship as friends, career rivals, and creative muses for one another influenced their works so significantly. Their works mimic one another in a myriad of ways.

“The Moon Woman.” Guggenheim. June 25, 2019. Accessed July 01, 2019. https://www.guggenheim.org/artwork/3473.

All information, unless otherwise noted, is intellectual property of Avery Kasper and may not be used or reproduced in any form without express written permission of Avery Kasper.

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