In 1947 the American artist Jackson Pollock radically ignored all traditional ideas relating to pictures and recognised painting techniques with the so-called 'drip paintings', the pictures that triggered his 'action painting'. His unconventional method of applying paint in a rhythmic movement, which sidelined the differentiation between painterly and graphic media, emphasises the direct existential creative process which is driven by chance but also supported by reflection.
'Figure' is one of the earliest works in which Pollock introduced this new pictorial process in the field of drawing and let paint run and drip from above onto the paper, which was lying flat. It was a risky balancing act between non-representational and figural representation. In order to control the flow of the viscous enamel paint as far as possible, Pollock had to work fast. From the black line, which became thicker with every hesitation but could also be as thin as a thread, he created an organic-looking entity by means of curving loops and changes of direction accompanied by splotches and by twists which suggest volume. Almost weightless, but with a remarkable presence, the lively figuration conquers its endless space on the paper, which the artist has left white.
We know that Pollock had a wire sculpture by Alexander Calder (1898-1976) in his studio. The spatial effect of this figure may have inspired him, but the drawing points above all towards the continued importance of the representational form in his artistic concept. The human figure was a central subject in his early work, but Pollock made it disappear in many of his drip paintings under countless layers of paint, or made it virtually unrecognisable. In 1948 he began to cut figural silhouettes out of his drip paintings. A correspondingly free-standing painting surface was created by the removal of a surface which corresponds to the rough outline of the drawing 'Figure' ('Untitled', cut-out, 1948-1950, Ohara Museum of Art, Kurashiki). And then, in a contrasting drawing, he made a collage of this colourful and lively drip-painting figure ('Untitled', cut-out figure, 1948, private collection).
At the time, the inspiration for Pollock to make an archetypal figure visible again in his composition in this way may have been provided by the cut-outs of Henri Matisse, but also by the figures projected frontally into the surface by Jean Dubuffet. The works of both these French artists were present in New York at the end of the 1940s and had a lasting effect on the development of American art in particular.