In Rhythmical Dance, and a group of works from 1948 to 1950, Jackson Pollock explored new possibilities within the three-dimensionality of his 'drip technique' through the use of collage. By adding elements such as pebbles or removing elements through cut-outs, Pollock successfully brought his support material into his dialectic about layering and spatial dimension. In concert with his revolutionary stance that material and medium can replace subject matter in painting, Pollock created works that ruptured the "all-over" compositions of his "drip technique". In bravura fashion, Pollock continuously experimented with the process of painting to challenge both himself and the boundaries of art.
In the monumental Out of the Web: Number 7, 1949 (Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart), Pollock literally gouged out abstracted, organic forms from the surface of a 4 x 8 foot painting, scraping away pigment to reveal the underlying board. The presence of the painting is relief-like, stressing the nature of a painting as object and the implied figuration literally becomes the ground of the painting. Pigment drips blur the edges of the revealed shapes and the sweep of the forms seems fully integrated with the swoops and skeins of paint. As the title suggests, Pollock has called forth new forms from his painterly composition, yet neither takes precedence over the other and the balance between presence and non-presence is maintained. As Briony Fer wrote in her chapter titled "The Cut" in On Abstract Art, "In Out of the Web, there are two configurational patterns which work on one another - the drips and skeins of the painting surface and the cut-out shapes. Neither takes priority over the other; we do not see the painting as figures on a ground, partly because they are cut away rather than superimposed - negative rather than positive." (B. Fer, On Abstract Art, New Haven and London, 1997, p. 99).
Rhythmical Dance and three related works expanded these investigations through the use of collage and paper cutouts in the grand tradition of Picasso and Braque. In the earlier part of the century, collage had played a vital role at a critical juncture in the birth of abstract art, and in these rare works, Pollock brings the exercise of addition and extraction to renewed life. Kirk Varnedoe addressed these works within a discussion about the fine line that "all-over" articulation forced Pollock to confront when judging the success of a work or its arrival at its final form as a painting. "Like many other modern artists before and since, he was drawn to explore edge conditions, extreme boundaries where coherence might give onto its opposite, and where fullness of meaning and total emptiness rubbed against each other. From time to time in 1948 and 1949, Pollock experimented with ways to relieve these problems by reintroducing figurative elements, in either animal or human form, through cutouts or simply by establishing a field of bounded, filled-in shapes..." (Exh. Cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art, Jackson Pollock, 1998, p. 51)
Rhythmical Dance is one of four works in which Pollock cut out forms from one painted work and transferred them onto the heavily painted surface of another work, in effect creating two sets of paired works. Untitled (Cut-Out) and Untitled (Cut-Out Figure) are corollaries of one another, just as are Rhythmical Dance and Untitled (ca. 1949). The black lithe figures of Rhythmical Dance are therefore a cut-out aperture, signifying a negative space that implies receding depth within a built-up terrain of extraordinary muscular texture. The ropes of yellow pigment are squeezed whole from the tube while the tendrils of white and black bind the "all-over" composition with the misty green and white pools of paint. The density of the layered pigment also presses outward toward the paper's edge, effectively surrounding the calm of the cut-out with a riot of painterly application. For an artist believed to be all about surface, Pollock has once again created a celebration of extraordinary spatial depth.
Henri Matisse also famously cultivated the art of the cut-out toward the end of his career in the 1940s, and the sinuous figures of his sculptural work and paintings adapted well to the evocative shapes that he produced with the use of scissors. The cut-out hailed a renaissance in his creative activity and embraced new themes of spontaneity and chance. Yet the closest link between Rhythmical Dance and Matisse's famous cutouts such as the Jazz series, may be the affinity to music, particularly improvisational music. Lee Krasner once remarked about Pollock, "Jazz? He thought it was the only other really creative thing that was happening in this country." Certainly, Rhythmical Dance abounds in the basic qualities of the jazz aesthetic and one can extend this theme to reflect the overall physicality of Pollock's technique. Subject and artist both embodied expressiveness through movement and innovation through experimentation.
Oil and enamel on cut-out paper
Torino, Gallerie Civica d'Arte Moderna, Thompson Collection Exhibition, 1961
Berlin, Akademie der Kunste, Das Ursprungliche und die Moderne, 1964, cat. no. 176
Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Aspects 1944-1965, March - May 1966, cat no. 40, illustrated in color
St. Gallen, Kunstmuseum, Amerikanische Kunst in der Schwiez, October - November 1966
New York, The Museum of Modern Art; London, The Tate Gallery, Jackson Pollock 1912-1956, November 1998 - February 1999,
32 x 24 in. 81.2 x 60.9 cm.
Francis V. O'Connor and Eugene V. Thaw, Jackson Pollock: A Catalogue Raisonne of Paintings, Drawings, and Other Works, Volume 4, Other Works, 1930-1956, New Haven and London, 1978, cat. no. 1032, illustrated
John Little, East Hampton (acquired directly from the artist)
Galerie Beyeler, Basel
Acquired by the present owner from the above in December 1966