Jackson Pollock
American, 1912–1956
Greyed Rainbow
1953

Oil on linen
182.9 x 244.2 cm (72 x 96 1/8 in.), unframed
Signed and dated: recto: "Jackson Pollock 53" (bottom right in black paint); verso: "Jackson Pollock / 53" (upper left in black paint)
Gift of Society for Contemporary American Art, 1955.494

In Jackson Pollock’s Greyed Rainbow, the viewer is swept into the illusion of a dizzying space in which splashes of black and white coil and intertwine, retract and expand. The canvas teems with bold, black arabesques, several of which end in fishtails. In the lower third of the composition, delicate colors emerge from this turmoil, much as a rainbow peeks through storm clouds.

In his short life, Pollock created a body of work that helped change the course of Modern art. Following the lead of the European Surrealists, many of whom lived in New York during World War II, he began to experiment with accident and intuition. The network of drips, lines, and splatters that animates his paintings was meant to unleash the artist’s subconscious mood. Influential critics viewed Pollock as the leader of a movement that came to be known as American Abstract Expressionism or the New York School and included other painters represented in the Art Institute's collection.

Pollock emphasized the expressive power of the artist’s gestures, materials, and tools, often applying paint with sticks, trowels, and palette knives instead of brushes. This process led to the term action painting. He challenged the concept of easel painting by working on large canvases placed either on the floor or fixed to a wall. With no apparent beginning or end, the resulting paintings extend beyond the edges of the canvas. Pollock's first action paintings appeared around 1947, shortly after the conclusion of World War II. Greyed Rainbow was completed three years before the artist's untimely death in a car crash.