Jackson Pollock 51: Short Film Captures the Painter Creating Abstract Expressionist Art

In the summer of 1950, Hans Namuth approached Jackson Pollock and asked the abstract expressionist painter if he could photograph him in his studio, working with his “drip” technique of painting. When Namuth arrived, he found:

A dripping wet canvas covered the entire floor. Blinding shafts of sunlight hit the wet canvas, making its surface hard to see. There was complete silence…. Pollock looked at the painting. Then unexpectedly, he picked up can and paintbrush and started to move around the canvas. It was as if he suddenly realized the painting was not finished. His movements, slow at first, gradually became faster and more dancelike as he flung black, white and rust-colored paint onto the canvas.

The images from this shoot “helped transform Pollock from a talented, cranky loner into the first media-driven superstar of American contemporary art, the jeans-clad, chain-smoking poster boy of abstract expressionism,” one critic later wrote in The Washington Post.

But Namuth wasn’t satisfied that he had really captured the essence of Pollock’s work. He wanted to capture Pollock in motion and color, to focus on the painter and painting alike.

Above, you can watch the result of Namuth’s second effort. The ten-minute film, simply called Jackson Pollock 51 (the 51 being short for 1951), lets you see Pollock painting from a unique angle — through glass. The film achieved Namuth’s aesthetic goals, but it came at a price. Apparently the filming taxed Pollock emotionally, and by the evening, the painter decided to pour himself some bourbon, his first drink in two years. A blowout argument followed; Pollock never stopped drinking again; and it was downhill from there…

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newsletter, please find it here.

If you would like to support the mission of Open Culture, consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere. You can contribute through PayPal, Patreon, and Venmo (@openculture). Thanks!

Related Content:

MoMA Puts Pollock, Rothko & de Kooning on Your iPad

John Berger’s Ways of Seeing: The TV Series

Steven Spielberg Admits Swallowing a Transistor to Andy Warhol

by | Permalink | Comments (13) |

Support Open Culture

We’re hoping to rely on our loyal readers rather than erratic ads. To support Open Culture’s educational mission, please consider making a donation. We accept PayPal, Venmo (@openculture), Patreon and Crypto! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (13)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • steroids says:

    one of the greatest painters of last century.

  • I’ve found that the best data subject, thank you

  • John Conolley says:

    Artist as conman? Or conman as artist?

  • Signature Arts says:

    The post is nice nshare such post it’s useful

  • Vegas Ericka-lockett says:

    I enjoyed the short film. we are studying Pollock in art history class

  • NikFromNYC says:

    “If you are one of those who believe that modern art has surpassed Vermeer and Raphael, don’t read this book, just go right on in your blissful idiocy.” -Salvador Dalí (50 Secrets Of Magic Craftsmanship, 1948)

    “Cézanne is the finest expressions of this decadence. He was truly unable to imitate the masterpieces and all of his admired technique is merely proof of his inability. His apples are made of cement. The paradox is that what is least admirable is most admired: nullity! What a symbol for a period! On the pretext of the academic being detestable, the worst in the class was made a hero! He opens the door to the ethics of shit! Newness at whatever costs and art becomes just a latrine! The logic of this search for newness leads to the gratification of total shit of which Cézanne is the high priest.” – Salvador Dalí (Dalí on Modern Art, 1957)

  • T.W. Brady says:

    Enjoyed the Pollock Doc, it helped to get a clearer view of the artists intent.

  • Miriam says:

    Trying to find a good open culture film found Pol lock! Poor studens those who believe what the professor says .What is there good to study or view in Pollock or so called modern artists? A wc in the middle of a gallery when they are incaple of even drawing a human bone? Come on , lets go back to the origins.

  • Reginald says:

    Pollock died at the age of 44 in an alcohol-related single-car accident when he was driving Ruth Kligman, also an artist and his mistress. She managed to survive.

  • Garreth Byrne says:

    His modus operandi explains a lot.

  • Roberto Zenit says:

    Do you know who holds the copyright of this film? I’d like to use an image from the film for a scientific paper.

  • chris g says:

    Very sad. And whom, Mr. Dali, has stood the test of time? A clever illustrator of contrived juxtaposition or a painter who influence and work transformed western art for all time. Generations of artists acknowledge Cezanne as their starting point. Dali beget a generation of pane comic artists.
    Be careful who you critique, in this case Dali’s surrealism has failed to withstand past the whims of adolescent gawping.

  • Anurag Sharma says:

    His modus operandi explains a lot. Very well explained.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.