Known for his iconic drip paintings, the art world’s resident bad boy, Jackson Pollock garnered much of attention in 1942 with his Jungian-inspired painting “Male and Female.” The canvas features two totem figures, one bathed in vivid colors and sumptuous curves and the other standing rigid and logical with equations emblazoned on its body. One would assume that Pollock was depicting stereotypical gender roles in conflict with one another, but this is probably not the case.
Jackson Pollock. “Male and Female” 1942
He was likely exploring the Jungian notion of the anima/animus. The Swiss psychologist Carl Jung (1875-1961) inspired many 20th century artistic movements, including Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism with his ideas about the subconscious and archetypes. Described as a predisposition that is present in humans of every race and era, archetypes were a very intriguing notion for Pollock. Jung detailed several archetypes over the course of his career, but four are very common: the persona, the anima/animus, the shadow, and the self (Sedivi 9).
Jung argued that the anima was the “female aspect in every male” and the animus is the “male aspect in every female.” Pollock was familiar with Jung’s work as he was in a Jungian-inspired therapy program at the time with New York City’s Dr. Violet Straub de Laszlo (Bowditch 67). In the painting, there is no consensus about which figure is male and which is female as certain shapes could be read as both phallic and uterine. This is because the piece is about the unification of male and female, the anima, and the animus. To further highlight this point, Pollock’s use of figuration and abstraction are merging together before our eyes, creating a scene of resolution and hope.
Bowditch, Lucy. “Unpacking Pollock’s ‘Male and Female’: Art Persona, Hermaphrodite, Anima, And Individuation.” Source: Notes in the History of Art, vol. 27, no. 2/3, 2008, pp. 65–69., <www.jstor.org/stable/23208138>.
Sedivi, Amy Elizabeth. “Unveiling The Unconscious: The Influence Of Jungian Psychology On Jackson Pollock And Mark Rothko.” College of William and Mary Art History Honors Thesis. 9 May 2009. <http://publish.wm.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1293&context=honorstheses>.