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The physics behind Jackson Pollock's paintings

Jackson Pollock
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A team of researchers from Brown University, USA, studied Jackson Pollock's physics painting technique, demonstrating that the artist had an understanding of fluid dynamics.

In a paper published in the journal PLOS ONE, the researchers demonstrated that Pollock's technique seemed to intentionally avoid coiling instability. Coiling instability is the tendency of a viscous fluid to form curls and coils when poured onto a surface.

"Like most painters, Jackson Pollock went through a lengthy process of experimentation to perfect his technique," said Roberto Zenit, a professor at Brown's School of Engineering and senior author on the paper. “What we are trying to do with this research is figure out what conclusions Pollock has reached in order to execute his paintings the way he wanted. Our main finding in this paper was that Pollock's movements and his paint properties were such that he avoided this coiling instability. ”

Pollock's technique involved pouring paint directly from a can, or with a stick, onto a canvas laid on the floor. Known as the drip technique, which is almost a misnomer in fluid mechanics. In fluid mechanics, dripping would disperse the fluid in a way that makes discrete droplets on the canvas. Pollock almost always avoids droplets, in favor of unbroken filaments of paint stretching across the canvas.

Zenit and his colleagues from the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, analyzed a collection of working Pollock videos. Using the data they collected, the researchers used an experimental setup to recreate its techniques.

"We can vary one thing at a time so we can decipher the key elements of the technique," Zenit said. "For example, we could vary the height from which the paint is poured and keep the speed constant to see how things change."

"What we found was that he moved his hand at a sufficiently high speed and at a sufficiently short height that this coiling would not occur," Zenit said.

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