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Pollock’s Paintings: Are They Really Fractal? – Ellen Landau and Kate Jones-Smith

Date: Thu. October 19th, 2006, 4:30 pm-5:30 pm
Location: Rockefeller 301

Motivated by a desire to assert the quality of his medium through gesture and materiality, Jackson Pollock’s allover paintings appear to stem from undirected manic motor activity, belying the extreme control of process which actually generated their abstract imagery. Moving far beyond traditional notions of subject or theme, Pollock created poured compositions in which the physical tracks of his bodily movements are permanently indexed. In his own words, Pollock’s goal was to express the “experience” of the modern age: “not an illustration of, but the equivalent.” Working directly with dripping fluid paint provided the key to his breakthrough achievement: an immediate statement of unconscious energy.


Fractal analysis has recently been used in a debate over the authenticity of newly discovered paintings that may be the work of Jackson Pollock. Thus it has become of interest to re-examine the basic ideas that underlie the fractal analysis. These ideas are: first, that the “defining visual character” of Pollock’s drip-paintings is their fractal nature; second, that the process by which he created fractals is Levy flight motion over the canvas; and third, that Pollock’s paintings have quantitative features that are so distinctive and well-defined that they can be used to aid in the authentication of newly discovered works of uncertain provenance. Originally published in 1999, the fractal analysis of Pollock’s paintings was subject to startlingly little critical examination despite receiving a great deal of media attention. A rigorous critique of the fractal analysis is presented, and the shortcomings of the method as an aid in authentication attempts are discussed.

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