This late Pollock has come in for some critical contempt over the years, not least because the title seems to confer on it a Melvillean sort of portentiousness, but without Melville’s humor. It has to be Melville because it has to be some sort of American sublime. Certainly it fits in with post-war literariness, with works like Motherwell’s Elegies, or Gottlieb’s symbolic bursts. It may also suffer in many viewer’s eyes when it’s somewhat vaginal
image (reminiscent of Fontana) is related to its dreary color and knowledge of Pollock’s depression at the time. Formally, for anyone conditioned by the great drip pictures, and even familiar with the black and whites, the torn white surface opening onto a deep space has to look cornball, even kitsch, and the sexual associations redouble the impression. But, as I discussed earlier, Reflection of the Big Dipper is an important turning point for Pollock, I think because it rationalizes the canvas on the floor as a collector of imagery that falls on it from above, from the sky, and it has a similar opening in the clouds. The Deep might have been a milestone of equal importance, if Pollock had lived. In a word, there are other depths in this picture, and the slashed surface was clearly necessary for him in some way we do not and likely cannot understand.