Will the Real Janet Sobel Please Stand Up?


Pollock’s radical new method of pouring, dripping, and spattering paint emerged in 1947, but the poured passages in these three abstract works from 1943 make it clear that he had explored such possibilities years before. Already, in a workshop in 1936, the Mexican painter David Siqueiros had encouraged Pollock to fling, pour, and spatter paint. Pollock could also have been aware of the use of poured or dripped paint in the work of many other artists, from André Masson and Joan Miró through Hans Hofmann and Janet Sobel.


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All texts copyright © Libby Seaberg, 2009

I read the above words on a wall of the Museum of Modern Art’s masterful Jackson Pollock retrospective in 1998. Although I had felt that I was relatively well informed about which artists were Pollock’s contemporaries, and particularly about the few women artists who were admitted into the pantheon of first-generation abstract expressionism, I had never heard of Janet Sobel. Intrigued by this lacuna in my idea of who made up this remarkable group of New York artists, I set about trying to find out more about her and her notable accomplishment, seemingly carried out under the watchful gaze of what I then saw as an especially clairvoyant group of art historians, who had never before imparted their knowing understanding of this aspect of mid-twentieth-century art to me before.
        After consulting William S. Rubin’s article discussing, in part, the influence of Janet Sobel’s all-over painting style on Jackson Pollock’s development1 [please click on numerical superscripts to link to their respective endnotes], I solicited additional information about Janet Sobel from Gary Snyder, the art dealer representing Sobel’s art estate. Snyder provided me with photocopies of