I saw the Jackson Pollock: Blind Spots exhibit at the Dallas Museum of Art for the first time when Amy came to visit me in Dallas in January. We saw the exhibition then continued on our adventure (namely, seeing a psychic who told me I’d meet my soul mate this year)(okay, sure), but the collection stuck in my head. Since then, I’ve been back twice.

The collection focuses on Pollock’s black paintings, the ones absent of color that he produced from 1951-1952. It starts out in almost a black box theatre room with only one small black painting. After that, you enter a well-lit room with white walls and the towering colorful drip paintings Pollock’s famous for. But then comes a grey room, which touches on a gallery showing he did in late 1950 after his colorful drip paintings of the 1940s had made him famous. The 1950 showing wasn’t well received, and after it Pollock and his wife Lee Krasner retreated to a friend’s apartment in Manhattan, where Pollock hit what he called “an all-time low–with depression and drinking.”*

There’s a room toward the end. It’s painted grey, with no seats and lower lighting, that holds smaller works he did on a type of Japanese mulberry paper given him by the sculptor Tony Smith after the gallery showing in 1950. As Pollock started to come out of his depression in early 1951, he started drawing on these thin papers, which presented a new type of challenge for him because they were so delicate a drip of ink would bleed through several pages below.

These drawings startled me because they look like what healing from depression feels like.

Diptych on Mulberry Paper

Jackson Pollock, 1951. Diptych on mulberry paper, showing how color bleeds through the paper.

There’s a starkness to some of them–the lines of black and color are thinner, and lines don’t fill the canvas like the colossal drip paintings. A sense of delicacy too, because Pollock is still figuring out how this paper works as he draws, and it was so thin it must have been easy to tear.

Color, like happiness, bursts on the top page but then fades as it bleeds through to deeper layers, and sometimes Pollock would rework the lower pages to try to make the bleeds into something else.

There’s this misconception about depression that you never feel any happiness at all when you’re depressed, and that’s not quite true. Even at my most catatonic, when I feel like I’m communicating underwater, I still feel those minimal bursts of happiness. But like the hesitant drips of color on an unfamiliar medium that fade three layers down, the impression isn’t quite there. It’s not full and it’s not quite right.

But in the exhibition the drawings get bigger and develop more color. They seem increasingly more like Pollock’s earlier work, like he’s healing and feeling good about his work again. You’re finally freed from the low-ceiling grey room of early 1951 into an enormous well-lit room that covers late 1951 and 1952, when Pollock was painting again, and using color again.

I feel like that’s where I’m at, right now. I haven’t been depressed since November, and for at least 6 weeks or so I’ve been writing for the joy of it again, and using color again.

Unfortunately, the Jackson Pollock: Blind Spots exhibition closes in just a few days, but if you can make it to Dallas and see if before then, it’s well worth the trip.

*As quoted in the exhibit.