Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of Jackson Pollock’s oeuvre is a group of modest works on paper, collectively known as the Psychoanalytic Drawings. In 1939, Pollock began psychotherapy, under the guidance of Dr. Joseph Henderson. Over the course of eighteen months, Pollock presented these sketches to Dr. Henderson during therapy sessions, using them as springboards into discussions about his psyche and creative process. As Pollock put it, “The source of my painting is the unconscious.” It was also noteworthy that Pollock gave the drawings as gifts to his doctor. Ultimately, Dr. Henderson was the proud possessor of sixty-nine drawings and one gouache. In 1970, Dr. Henderson sold his collection of Pollock’s Psychoanalytic Drawings to Maxwell Galleries, in San Francisco. Prior to that, Pollock’s widow, the painter Lee Krasner, sought legal action against Henderson for violating a patient’s privacy, by releasing the drawings onto the art market. Ultimately, Dr. Henderson prevailed.
In 1978, I visited Maxwell Galleries and was shown some of the works. My initial impression was they may not have been masterpieces, but they had an inarguable presence about them. The graphite and colored pencil imagery varied from pure abstractions, to animals, monstrous creatures, and human figures. Given Pollock’s relatively short career, and that he wasn’t overly prolific, the fact that these works were preserved was something to savor. After looking at a few drawings, the gallery director explained to me that thirteen of the sheets were illustrated on both sides. There was talk of using a laser to literally split the sheets in half, creating additional works that could be sold as individual Pollocks. Apparently, the plan was abandoned. To this day, the Psychoanalytic Drawings appear to be the Rosetta Stone that might unlock how Pollock arrived at his classic Drip paintings.