Jackson Pollock: January 28, 1912 – August 11, 1956
Jackson Pollock was the first American abstract painter to be taken seriously in Europe.
Born to Stella McClure and LeRoy McCoy Pollock, Jackson Pollock was the fifth and youngest son. He was originally from Cody, Wyoming, but was raised in Arizona
Jackson was attending Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles when he was encouraged to pursue his interest in art. His oldest brother, Charles, went to New York to study with painter Thomas Hart Benton at the Art Students League. He suggested that Jackson join him and, in 1930, Pollock moved east and enrolled in Benton’s class. He studied Old Master paintings and mural paintings. He also posed for his teacher’s 1930 murals at the New School for Social Research. Also at work at this time was Mexican muralist José Clemente Orozco. He was also exposedDavid Alfaro Siquieros. Their experimental techniques and large scale art had a lasting impact on Pollock.
Around this time, Pollock was invited to participate in a group exhibition. Here, is where he met his future wife Lee Krasner. His work also came to the attention of Peggy Guggenheim, the wealthy New York heiress whose money built the Guggenheim Museum. She became his dealer and patron, introducing his work to audiences. In November 1943, she gave him a solo exhibition and a contract guaranteeing him one-hundred fifty dollars a month for a year.
In 1945, Guggenheim lent Pollock the down payment on a small house in The Springs on East Hampton, Long Island. He and his wife lived there till their deaths and their house is now the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center.
Here he began creating his characteristic large scale artwork. His work was praised and dismissed at the same time. But he was gaining significant attention with a number of one- person exhibitions. While he was widely known in the New York art world, the rest of the world was introduced to him in August of 1949, when Life magazine did a piece on him.
In 1951, Pollock underwent a change in emphasis in his work. He gave up the use of color and instead created a series of black paintings on unprimed canvases.
For the next five years after, he continued to struggle with his drinking and his art continued to undergo changes and he returned to using colors. In his last year, he did not paint at all.
Around this time, his marriage to Krasner was unstable. He had taken a mistress and Krasner took the opportunity to go to Europe to re-evaluate their relationship. Unfortunately, Krasner received a call informing her of her husband’s sudden tragic death.
Jackson Pollock was one of the most influential and controversial painters of the twentieth century. He was an alcoholic with a quick temper and quick fists. He once said: “The problem isn’t painting; it’s what to do when you aren’t painting.” Indeed, his problem was not painting!
Jackson Pollock studied art in California (along with two of his five brothers) He took his studying very seriously and focused for a while on anatomical drawings. He later moved to New York where he worked for several years (1938-1943) for the Federal Arts Project. The FAP was the visual arts arm of the Great Depression Era’s New Deal. Its primary goal was to employ out of work artists. These artists were hired primarily to create art for public spaces. FAP artists are reputed to have created more than 200,000 works of art from posters to murals, some of which stand as the most significant pieces of public art in the USA. Jackson Pollock was one of these artists.
However, Jackson Pollock is best known for his Action Painting. Action painting (also sometimes called Gestural Abstraction) is a technique where paint is spontaneously splashed, dribbled or smeared onto the canvas as opposed to being carefully and mindfully applied with a paintbrush. This style was widespread in the 1950’s and 1960’s and is closely linked with Abstract Expressionism. The term “Action Painting” was coined by American art critic Harold Rosenberg in 1952. This style of painting focuses on art as a process rather than just a finished product. The act of creation itself is the point and not just the painting alone.
In 1945 Jackson Pollock married fellow artist Lee Krasner. They lived together for several years on a small homestead in The Springs near East Hampton. It is possible to visit the Pollock- Krasner House and Studio Center. In the studio you are provided with special padded slippers and you can walk across the paint laden floor, the very spot where many of Jackson Pollock’s masterpieces were created.
Downfall of Pollock
In Paris, on August 12, 1956, Lee Krasner received a phone call informing her that her husband, Jackson Pollock, had died the night befo
It seems to be all great American legends are surrounded by myth. And most American legends, as they are labeled, die at an early age and leave people to wonder what could have been if only.
As Pollock’s work was gaining promise, he was struggling with his inner demons of alcoholism and depression. His brothers Charles and Sanford encouraged him to seek treatment, including psychoanalysis in 1937. But in 1938, he suffered a setback in the form of a nervous breakdown. While the therapy was not successful in curing his drinking problem or his depression, he did have two years of absolute sobriety in which he created some wonderful pieces of work.
By 1955, he stopped painting altogether, when the alcohol and depression got the better of him. At this time, Krasner had the opportunity to go to Europe for a period of time. Considering the state of their marriage and Pollock’s behavior, Krasner took the opportunity to go to Europe and re-evaluate their marriage. Pollock, on the other hand, remained in New York. He took up with a mistress to keep him company along with his drink and to distract himself from his current situation. The agonies, self-doubt, and chaos he was experiencing were to come to an end very soon.
On August 11, 1956, Jackson Pollock was killed. He was involved in a one car auto accident. He was driving drunk and had overturned his convertible. He killed himself and an acquaintance, while seriously injuring his other passenger, Ruth Kligman, his mistress and only survivor.
All of Jackson Pollock’s works are of significant importance. However, three pieces in particular stand out among the pack. They are:
- Number 1, 1948
- Number 32, 1950
- Blue Poles, 1952
But out of these three pieces, Blue Poles, remains to be somewhat controversial. Here is the story:
Blue Poles was first showcased at Pollock’s solo exhibition at the Sidney Janis Gallery in November of 1952, where it was titled Number 11, 1952.
The date of the painting has frequently and mistakenly been given as 1953. It is clear from the inscription in the bottom left-hand corner of the painting that Pollock initially dated it ’53’, and then changed the ‘3’ to a ‘2’.
The creation of Blue Poles attracted much attention following the publication of an article by Stanley P. Friedman in the New York Magazine in 1973. He reported that he had been told by Tony Smith, a close friend of Pollock, that he himself had initially painted on the canvas that subsequently became Blue Poles. Smith told Friedman that he visited Pollock early in 1952 and in a state of drunkenness, they began to paint.
Tony Smith also told Friedman of another visit shortly after, in the company of Barnett Newman. He said that Newman was the one who added the ‘poles’ to the canvas.
Friedman reported that when Lee Krasner Pollock confronted Newman with this story, Newman denied that he had had anything to do with the ‘poles’, which are clearly a late development in the painting.
The matter did not rest after the magazine published a letter by Thomas B. Hess in their next issue where he emphatically claimed Pollock had no help whatsoever.
In January 1974, a meeting was held to carefully examine the painting and its conclusions found that Smith and Newman’s involvement was non-existent.
It also suggests that Pollock simply painted over the initial paints when he was working on this particular piece and the other paints were simply covered up.
The conclusions also found just how the painting came to be about.
It seems Pollock started with his canvas spread on the floor, as with all his other paintings. When the first layer of paint was dry the un-stretched canvas was put up on the wall by tacking it along the top edge to a beam that ran along the wall of the studio where more paint was added. Then the canvas was back the floor.
Pollock then left the canvas alone for quite some time. When he next worked on the painting, having decided to paint in the blue poles, it can be seen how the blue paint rides over the thick ridges of the earlier paint layers without any blurring, an indication they were quite dry by that time.
Clearly, it took time for this to finally come through…we are each a judge as to how it really came about.
Jackson Pollock Drip Paintings: Fractals or Folly
Famous artist Jackson Pollock was one of the most influential abstract painters of the 20th century. Jackson Pollock drip paintings were developed during the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, and they are believed to contain a mathematical, yet natural, concept called a fractal. The word fractal is derived from the Latin term “fractus” meaning broken or fractured. It is a rough, geometric object that can be subdivided into parts, each of which looks like a reduced-size copy of the whole. In a fractal pattern, each smaller configuration is a miniature, though not necessarily identical, version of the larger pattern. Fractals are referred to as nature’s fingerprint as they are heavily present in nature. Scientists claim that the juts and slopes of a specific crater in a mountain will mimic the approximate outline of a whole mountain. Therefore, what looks like Pollock randomly dripping paint onto a canvas is now speculated to be a truly complex process.
You do the Math
Instead of using traditional painting techniques with brushes on a vertical canvas, Pollock preferred to produce a constant stream of paint splattered onto a large, horizontal canvas. A typical Jackson Pollock drip piece could take months to complete as he would constantly re-work canvases, building up dense webs of patterns. By using this “continuous dynamic” technique, Pollock was able to simulate patterns that were similar to those that evolve in nature. Fractals are essentially remnants or leftovers of the chaos theory in nature; for example, if a tropical storm was the chaos theory, the wreckage left after the storm is the fractal. The belief is that nature does not demonstrate a stable pattern, yet it does possess systems with elements of randomness that are able to organize themselves into some semblance of order. Mathematicians believe that it was through the mastery of the chaos theory that Pollock was able to create fractals in his works long before their inception into modern thought.
Abstract and Avant-Garde
Mathematicians claim that fractals are the reason so many people find Pollock’s work so aesthetically pleasing. They claim that a fractal pattern, whether in a Jackson Pollock drip painting or in nature, is subconsciously pleasing to the eye. Researchers studying Jackson Pollock drip paintings are mystified and delighted at the fact that fractals are present in his work, as he was employing it decades before Benoit Mandelbrot came up with the concept in 1975 while studying fluctuations in the cotton market. It is further claimed that artists of all media, whether it is painting, literature, or music, instinctively employ fractal patterns found in nature when they create. Studies indicate that people prefer recurring patterns that are neither too random nor too regular. Of particular interest is the possibility that humanity’s preoccupation with fractals may be linked to survival more than aesthetics. On an African savannah, by tuning into fractal dimensions, people could tell if the tall grass was being ruffled simply by the wind or by a predator.
When Jackson Pollock drip paintings are meticulously deconstructed, the fractal patterns are so complex that mathematicians claim that they can determine a fake Pollock piece from an authentic one. In fact, Pollock’s fractal expressionism has been studied so closely that scientists say they can use fractal analysis to not only validate Pollock’s work, but also to date it. Apparently, changes in the fractal dimensions denote an evolution in Pollock’s style.
Pollock in Print and on Screen
There have been many books and movies centering around the turbulent life of Jackson Pollock. Each one sheds a different light on his life. Below, you’ll find a list of movies and a partial list of books. For a complete list of books about Pollock, go to your nearest book store.
- Jackson Pollock (1992): A British documentary which examines the life and death of Pollock and his place in the art world.
- Jackson Pollock – Love and Death on Long Island (1999): This is a 46-minute documentary by the BBC. It includes voiceovers of Pollock and his wife Lee Krasner as well as interviews with poets, friends, biographers and his lover Ruth Kligman.
- Pollock (2002): This film features Ed Harris as Pollock and Marcia Gay Harden as his wife, Lee Krasner.
- Jackson Pollock – Jazz: Originally released on September 27, 1998. It includes 17 jazz hits from Pollock’s own record collection.
- Pollock Original Soundtrack: Originally released February 13, 2001.
- Two Dialogues: Originally released in August of 1996. It includes two dialogues, one with Pollock himself and the second with Mark Miller.
- The Essential Jackson Pollock: by Justin Spring. Includes reproduction prints and attempts to make the reader understand Pollock and his works.
- Jackson Pollock: The Irascibles and the New York School: by Alfieri Bruno et al. Includes two exhibitions in Italy, one called “Jackson Pollock in Venice” as seen at the Courer show and the second from the Centre Culturale Canadini in Mestre includes works by Krasner, de Kooning, Rothko, and others.
- Jackson Pollock: by Ellen G. Landau. A biographical-critical study which presents new material as well as re-evaluates old.
- Love Affair: A Memoir of Jackson Pollock: by Ruth Kligman. Written by Pollock’s mistress/lover.
- Such Desperate Joy: Imagining Jackson Pollock: by Helen Harrison. A collection of writings, interviews, creative responses and personal revelations – many never before published or long out of print – examines his life, death, and myth.
- Jackson Pollock: An American Saga: by Steven W. Naifeh. A complete biography of 934 pages, with illustrations.
- Jackson Pollock: Energy Made Visible: by B.H. Friedman. An illustrated biography.
- Jackson Pollock: New Approaches: by Kirk Varnedoe. Includes nine critical essays which offers different ways of understanding the man and the art.
- To a Violent Grave: An Oral Biography of Jackson Pollock: by Jeffrey Potter. Potter knew the artist for seven years on Long Island. He has interviewed over 150 people, including family, art critics, lovers, roommates, and neighbors.
- Jackson Pollock: Interviews, Articles and Reviews: by Pepe Karmel. Brings together hard to find texts from newspapers, journals and catalogues.
Famous Words by a Famous Man
Many critics did not understand where Jackson Pollock was coming from with his paintings. But today, we know more about the man and these following quotes can help further understand his motivation and drive to do what he did.
Jackson Pollock said:
“My paintings do not have a center, but depend on the same amount of interest throughout.”
“When I am in a painting, I’m not aware of what I’m doing. It is only after a sort of ‘get acquainted’ period that I see what I have been about. I have no fears about making changes, destroying the image, etc, because the painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through. It is only when I lose contact with the painting that the result is a mess. Otherwise there is pure harmony, an easy give and take, and the painting comes out well.”
“When I am painting I have a general notion as to what I am about. I can control the flow of paint: there is no accident.”
“New needs need new techniques. And the modern artists have found new ways and new means of making their statements … the modern painter cannot express this age, the airplane, the atom bomb, the radio, in the old forms of the Renaissance or of any other past culture.”
“[A canvas is] an arena in which to act.”
“Every good artist paints what he is.”
“I’m very representational some of the time, and a little all of the time. But when you’re painting out of your unconscious, figures are bound to emerge.”
“The modern artist is working with space and time, and expressing his feelings rather than illustrating.”
“I don’t work from drawings. I don’t make sketches and drawings and color sketches into a final painting.”
“Abstract painting is abstract. It confronts you. There was a reviewer a while back who wrote that my pictures didn’t have any beginning or any end. He didn’t mean it as a compliment, but it was.”
“Today painters do not have to go to a subject matter outside of themselves. Most modern painters work from a different source. They work from within.”
“The strangeness will wear off and I think we will discover the deeper meanings in modern art.”
“It [abstract art] should be enjoyed just as music is enjoyed – after a while you may like it or you may not.”
In response to the question “How do you know when you’re finished?” Pollock replied “How do you know when you’re finished making love?”
“The modern artist…is working and expressing an inner world – in other words – expressing the energy, the motion, and other inner forces”
“I continue to get further away from the usual painter’s tools such as easel, palette, brushes, etc. I prefer sticks, trowels, knives and dripping fluid paint or a heavy impasto with sand, broken glass or other foreign matter added.”
None of this writing s intended to be an infringement. This is not written by myself, but taken from Jackson Pollock. Thank you for the support and education you ae giving yo the people of the World.
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