Some method in Pollock's chaos

Steve Connor
Thursday 03 June 1999 00:02 BST
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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

Editor

JACKSON POLLOCK, the abstract expressionist painter famous for his "drip and splash" technique, was unconsciously a mathematical expert as well as an artistic genius, a study of his major works of art has found.

Pollock's paintings possess hidden "fractal" patterns similar to those that shape some of the most beautiful sights in nature, from the design of a tree to the contours of a coastline, according to an analysis published in the journal Nature.

Pollock pioneered "active painting", using gravity to drip the paint onto large canvasses rolled out on the floor of his barn-sized studio on Long Island, New York.

Richard Taylor, a research physicist at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, has discovered that Pollock incorporated more complex fractal patterns as he developed his drip-and-splash paintings from 1943 until his death in 1956. His evolving ability to reproduce fractal patterns was so predictable that it is possible to prove that a painting is a Pollock and to estimate when he painted it, Dr Taylor believes.

With his colleagues, Adam Micolich and David Jonas, Dr Taylor scanned photographs of Pollock's 15 major works of art between 1943 and 1952 into a computer programmed to identify fractal patterns.

"Pollock may be the first artist to capture the essence of nature on a canvas. He is dripping paint like rain and his canvas begins to behave like a natural terrain," Dr Taylor said. More conventional landscape paintings would not incorporate fractals because the artists attempt to imitate nature rather than replicate it, he added.

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