Jackson Pollock's first black painting seems to be 32, 1950. It is one of a group of classical paintings done that year. The others are 1 (known as Lavender Mist), 28, 30 (known as Autumn Rhythm), 31 (known as One), and a mural in William Rubin's collection. In these works the turbulence of the first drip-paintings is subdued to a coiling equilibrium and the long, narrow formats of the brighter early drips is solidified into large but proportionately traditional rectangles. The disciplined but infinitely varied morphology of 32 established an all-over suspended surface of flowing and branching forms. During the next two years Pollock pursued the use of black with, it seems to me, both a sense of being carried along by the momentum of inventiveness and, at the same time, by an emerging critical spirit which entirely changed the meaning of the later works.
These paintings are frequently described as black and white but this is wrong. In the 1940s there were several artists of Pollock's generation who used black and white, notably de Kooning with his paintings in enamel of 1946-48, Motherwell with his At Five in the Afternoon, 1949, the sketch which got escalated into the Elegies for the Spanish Republic, and Franz Kline who by 1949 was doing the drawings on which his 1950 black-and-white paintings are based. De Kooning was first, but his works were fairly small; Kline and Motherwell were later, but their paintings were larger. Common to all of them, however, is the fact that they used black and white (or, maybe, black and ochre), but never black singly in paintings. Pollock at the time was alone in making one‐ color black paintings; this is a crucial difference and one that is lost when his work is called "black and white." Only Barnett Newman, in paintings of 1958 and later, seems to have understood the difference between black-and-white paintings and black paintings on raw canvas.
The importance of this distinction can be seen by considering the way____________________