Jackson Pollock
Guardians of the Secret, 1943

Artwork Info

Artwork title
Guardians of the Secret
Artist name
Jackson Pollock
Date created
oil on canvas
48 3/8 in. × 75 3/8 in. (122.89 cm × 191.47 cm)
Date acquired
Collection SFMOMA
Albert M. Bender Collection, Albert M. Bender Bequest Fund purchase
© Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Permanent URL
Artwork status
On view on floor 2 as part of Open Ended: SFMOMA's Collection, 1900 to Now

Audio Stories

A psychoanalyst sees Pollock

Show TranscriptHide Transcript


NARRATOR: A few years before he painted this work, Jackson Pollock started seeing a psychoanalyst. He was drawn to Carl Jung’s theories about the unconscious mind– and believed that images from his dreams and art were like windows into his deepest self.  


KATE DONOHUE: What Jung believed is that images and symbols can tell us more about our inner world sometimes than words.  

My name is Kate Donahue. I’m a licensed Ph.D psychologist with a Jungian expressive arts orientation.   Jung felt that we have a deeper level of the unconscious that he called the collective unconscious, that knows these symbols. That we hold in us all these potentials for universals that he called archetypes. 

I am struck by the layers. My eye first goes to the middle and there’s some kind of writing. What also strikes me is the play of dark and light.  The side images of these guardians give me a sense of stability. They seem grounded, they seem like they’re trying to hold something together and then underneath, there is this animal that seems like a dog but those ears could be almost rat-like. I see arrowheads, I see faces of fish, I see a skeleton. For me, there’s a way it almost feels like jazz — improvisational and you don’t know what’s going to come up next.  


NARRATOR: Pollock called this painting Guardians of The Secret. But he never explained what that secret might be.  


DONOHUE: I’m struck with the dog. Jung actually felt that animals held the secret of the archetypes and they held our secret nature. I also see the “secret” as being the mystery that Jung felt we never totally unravel. And I think the secret of Pollock’s life that he really was never able to totally unravel. 

Read MoreCollapse



Audio Description

Show TranscriptHide Transcript



We’re standing before Jackson Pollock’s Guardians of the Secret from 1943. Four feet high and over six feet wide, this painting is dense with mythic symbols. At both the far left side and the far right side, tall vertical figures stand guard. Each is painted with swirls of color and long snaking lines, hinting at human forms. For the figure on the left, Pollock uses white and black to suggest a skull for a head and bones for a body. The figure on the right side seems to wear a mask or helmet, beneath which dark blue and black ornamental robes flow down like a column. Stretched across the base of the painting, facing the robed figure on the right, a dog-like animal lies prone, paws out. Its head is indicated by pointy ears, a single eye, and a long snout. Above this canine figure, in the wide center of the painting, is a horizontal area dominated by white and yellow, with streaks of black and other dark colors. This might be a tapestry, a scroll, or a shroud marked by hieroglyphics. Above this, along the top third of the painting, abstract symbols are lined up in a row. Furthest left, white streaks create the outline of a shield. To its right, black and blue curves suggest a scarab. To the right again, a burst of fiery red seems to be a rooster. These symbols are interspersed with streaks of paint, filling the upper part of the canvas with even more color and line. 

Read MoreCollapse

Other Works by Jackson Pollock

See other works by Jackson Pollock

Please note that artwork locations are subject to change, and not all works are on view at all times. If you are planning a visit to SFMOMA to see a specific work of art, we suggest you contact us at collections@sfmoma.org to confirm it will be on view.

Only a portion of SFMOMA's collection is currently online, and the information presented here is subject to revision. Please contact us at collections@sfmoma.org to verify collection holdings and artwork information. If you are interested in receiving a high resolution image of an artwork for educational, scholarly, or publication purposes, please contact us at copyright@sfmoma.org.

This resource is for educational use and its contents may not be reproduced without permission. Please review our Terms of Use for more information.