Offering a glimpse of the abstraction he would achieve in his later work, Jackson Pollock's The Flame (1938) is a semi abstract representation of fire, hinting at human decay.
This oil on canvas with its dark, brooding colours and heavy brushwork gives the impression of a skeleton's remains engulfed by flames.
Painted between 1934 and 1938, it was during this time that Pollock learned the drip painting technique, pioneered by Janet Sobel, that would later become his hallmark.
While this is not used in The Flame, the brushwork indicates a move towards a freer style of painting, although it would be some years before this would reach fruition.
Instead, his subsequent work focused on expressionism and displayed the apparent influence of the 1939 MoMa Picasso retrospective. Although there are works in other media, including an Untitled screen print from 1939 displaying the aftermath of human carnage, that are preoccupied with the same style and thematic concerns.
While The Flame is considered an interesting signpost in the development of Pollock's technique, its use of colour is also revealing. The prominence of cadmium red, yellow and white and burnt umber show the influence of his early interest in Native American art.
Given that Pollock was afflicted with alcoholism for which he subsequently underwent treatment, the painting may thematically represent regeneration.
Native American culture symbolically used fire in certain rituals as being representative of cleansing and vitality.
This, plus the bold use of colour, offer us a glimpse into the kind of raw vitality that would epitomise Pollock's later work that married technique and colour to create art that was completely unique and unparalleled in its innovative style, causing the critic Clement Greenberg to claim "I knew Jackson was the greatest painter this country had produced".