Paul Jackson Pollock (January 28, 1912 – August 11, 1956) was an influential American painter and a
major force in the abstract expressionist movement. He was married
to noted abstract painter Lee Krasner.
Pollock was born in Cody, Wyoming in 1912, the
youngest of five sons. His father was a farmer and later a land surveyor for
the government.He grew up in Arizona and Chico,
California, studying at Los Angeles' Manual Arts High School. During his early life,
he experienced Native American culture while
on surveying trips with his father.In 1930, following his brother Charles, he
moved to New York City, where they both studied under Thomas Hart Benton at the Art Students League of New York.
Benton's rural American subject matter shaped Pollock's work only fleetingly,
but his rhythmic use of paint and his fierce independence were more lasting
influences. From 1935 to 1943, Pollock worked
for the WPA Federal Art Project.
Springs period and the unique technique
In October 1945, Pollock married another important American painter, Lee Krasner,
and in November they moved to what is now known as the Pollock-Krasner House and Studioin Springs on Long Island,
New York. Peggy Guggenheim loaned them the down payment for
the wood-frame house with a nearby barn that Pollock made into a studio. It was
there that he perfected the technique of working spontaneously with liquid
Pollock was introduced to the use of liquid paint in 1936, at an
experimental workshop operated in New York City by the Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros. He later used paint
pouring as one of several techniques in canvases of the early 1940s, such as
"Male and Female" and "Composition with Pouring I." After
his move to Springs, he began painting with his canvases laid out on the studio
floor, and developed what was later called his "drip" technique. The
drip technique required paint with a fluid viscosity so Pollock turned to then
new synthetic resin-based paints, called alkyd enamels. Pollock described this
use of household paints, instead of artist’s paints, as "a natural growth
out of a need". He used hardened
brushes, sticks and even basting syringes as paint applicators. Pollock's
technique of pouring and dripping paint is thought to be one of the origins of
the term action painting. With this technique, Pollock was
able to achieve a more immediate means of creating art, the paint now literally
flowing from his chosen tool onto the canvas. By defying the conventional way
of painting on an upright surface, he added a new dimension, literally, by
being able to view and apply paint to his canvases from all directions.
In the process of making paintings in this way he moved away from figurative
representation, and challenged the Western tradition of using easel and brush,
as well as moving away from use only of the hand and wrist; as he used his
whole body to paint. In 1956 Timemagazine dubbed Pollock "Jack the Dripper" as a result of his unique
Pollock observed Indiansandpaintingdemonstrations in the 1940s. Other influences on his dripping technique include
the Mexican muralistsand also Surrealistautomatism. Pollock denied "the accident"; he usually had an idea of
how he wanted a particular piece to appear. It was about the movement of his
body, over which he had control, mixed with the viscous flow of paint, the
force of gravity, and the way paint was absorbed into the canvas. The mix of
the uncontrollable and the controllable. Flinging, dripping, pouring,
spattering, he would energetically move around the canvas, almost as if in a
dance, and would not stop until he saw what he wanted to see. Studies by
Taylor, Micolich and Jonas have explored the nature of Pollock's technique and
have determined that some of these works display the properties of mathematicalfractals;
and that the works become more fractal-like chronologically through Pollock's
career. They even go on to speculate that on some
level, Pollock may have been aware of the nature of chaotic motion, and
was attempting to form what he perceived as a perfect representation of
mathematical chaos - more than ten years before Chaos
Theory itself was discovered. Even though some experts have pointed to the
possibility that he (Pollock) could have simply been imitating popular theories
of the time in order to give his paintings a depth not previously seen.
In 1950 Hans Namuth, a young photographer, wanted to photograph
and film Pollock at work. Pollock promised to start a new painting especially
for the photographic session, but when Namuth arrived, Pollock apologized and
told him the painting was finished. Namuth's comment upon entering the studio:
The 1950s and
Pollock's most famous paintings were during the "drip period"
between 1947 and 1950. He rocketed to popular status following an August 8,
1949 four-page spread in Life Magazine that asked, "Is he the greatest
living painter in the United States?" At the peak of his fame, Pollock
abruptly abandoned the drip style.
Pollock's work after 1951 was darker in color, including a collection in
black on unprimed canvases, followed by a return to color and he reintroduced
figurative elements. During this period Pollock had moved to a more commercial
gallery and there was great demand from collectors for new paintings. In
response to this pressure, along with personal frustration, his alcoholismdeepened.
From naming to numbering
Pollock wanted an end to the viewer's search for representational elements
in his paintings, thus he abandoned naming them and started numbering them
instead. Of this, Pollock commented: "...look passively and try to receive
what the painting has to offer and not bring a subject matter or preconceived
idea of what they are to be looking for." Pollock's wife, Lee Krasner,
said Pollock "used to give his pictures conventional titles... but now he
simply numbers them. Numbers are neutral. They make people look at a picture
for what it is - pure painting."
Pollock did not paint at all in 1955. After
struggling with alcoholism his whole life, Pollock's career was cut short when
he died in an alcohol-related, single car crash in his Oldsmobile convertible,
less than a mile from his home in Springs, New York on August 11, 1956 (10
p.m.) at the age of 44. One of his passengers, Edith Metzger, died, while the
other passenger, Pollock's girlfriend Ruth
Kligman, survived. After his death, Pollock's wife, Lee Krasner, managed
his estate and ensured that Pollock's reputation remained strong in spite of
changing art-world trends. They are buried in Green River Cemetery in Springs with a large
boulder marking his grave and a smaller one marking hers.
The Pollock-Krasner House and Studiois owned and administered by the Stony Brook Foundation, a non-profit affiliate
of the State University of New
York at Stony Brook. There are regular tours of the house and studio from
May - October.
A separate organization, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, was
established in 1985. The Foundation not only functions as the official Estate
for both Pollock and his widow Lee Krasner,
but also, under the terms of Krasner's will, serves "to assist individual
working artists of merit with financial need." The
U.S. copyright representative for the Pollock-Krasner Foundation is the Artists Rights Society
In 2000, the biographical film Pollockwas released. Marcia Gay Harden won the Academy Award for Best
Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Lee Krasner. The movie was the
project of Ed
Harris who portrayed Pollock and directed it. He was nominated for Academy Award for Best Actor.
In 1960, Ornette Coleman's album "Free Jazz"
featured a Pollock painting as its cover artwork.
In 1973, Blue
Poles(Blue Poles: Number 11, 1952), was purchased by the AustralianWhitlamGovernment for the National Gallery of Australia for
US$2 million (A$1.3 million at the time of payment). At the time, this was the
highest price ever paid for a modern painting. In the conservative climate of
the time, the purchase created a political and media scandal.
The painting is now one of the most popular exhibits in the gallery, and now
is thought to be worth between $100 and $150 million, according to the latest
news.It was a centerpiece of the Museum of Modern Art's 1998 retrospective in
New York, the first time the painting had returned to America since its
In November 2006 Pollock's "No. 5, 1948"
became the world's most expensive painting, when it was sold privately to an
undisclosed buyer for the sum of $140,000,000. The previous owner was film and
music-producer David Geffen. It is rumored that the current owner is
a German businessman and art collector.
An ongoing debate rages over whether 24 paintings and drawings found in a Wainscott, New York locker in 2003 are Pollock
originals. Physicists have argued over whether fractals can be
used to authenticate the paintings. Analysis of the pigments shows some were
not yet patented at the time of Pollock's death. The debate is still
In 2006 adocumentary, Who the Fuck Is Jackson Pollock?,
was released which featured a truck driver named Teri Horton who bought what may
be a Pollock painting worth millions at a thrift store for five dollars.
to Native American art
Pollock stated: “I feel nearer, more a part of the painting, since this way
I can walk round it, work from the four sides and literally be in the painting.
This is akin to the methods of the Indian sand painters of the West.”
Pollock's work has always polarized critics and has been the focus of many
important critical debates.
In a famous 1952 article in ARTnews, Harold
Rosenberg coined the term "action painting," and wrote that
"what was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event. The big
moment came when it was decided to paint 'just to paint.' The gesture on the
canvas was a gesture of liberation from value — political, aesthetic,
moral." Many people assumed that he had modeled his "action
painter" paradigm on Pollock.
Clement Greenberg supported Pollock's work on
formalistic grounds. It fit well with Greenberg's view of art history as being
about the progressive purification in form and elimination of historical
content. He therefore saw Pollock's work as the best painting of its day and
the culmination of the Western tradition going back via Cubism and Cézanne to Manet.
Posthumous exhibitions of Pollock's work had been sponsored by the Congress for Cultural Freedom, an
organization to promote American culture and values backed by the CIA. Certain left wing
scholars, most prominently Eva Cockcroft, argue that the U.S.
government and wealthy elite embraced Pollock and abstract expressionism in
order to place the United States firmly in the forefront of global art and
devalue socialist realism. In the words of Cockcroft,
Pollock became a 'weapon of the Cold War'.
Painter Norman Rockwell's work Connoisseur also
appears to make a commentary on the Pollock style. The painting features what
seems to be a rather upright man in a suit standing before a Jackson
Pollock-like spatter painting.
Others such as artist, critic, and satirist Craig Brown, have been "astonished that
decorative 'wallpaper', essentially brainless, could gain such a position in
art history alongside Giotto, Titian, and Velázquez."
Reynolds News in a 1959 headline said, "This is not art — it's a
joke in bad taste."
List of major works
- (1942) Male and FemalePhiladelphia Museum of Art
- (1942) Stenographic
FigureMuseum of Modern Art
- (1943) MuralUniversity
of Iowa Museum of Art
- (1943) Moon-Woman Cuts
- (1943) The She-WolfMuseum of Modern Art
- (1943) Blue (Moby Dick)Ohara Museum of Art
- (1945) Troubled QueenMuseum of Fine Arts, Boston
- (1946) Eyes in the HeatPeggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice
- (1946) The KeyArt Institute of Chicago
- (1946) The Tea Cup Collection Frieder Burda
- (1946) Shimmering
Substance, from The Sounds In The GrassMuseum of Modern Art
- (1947) Full Fathom FiveMuseum of Modern Art
- (1947) Cathedral
- (1947) Enchanted ForestPeggy Guggenheim Collection
- (1948) Painting
- (1948) Number 5 (4ft x 8ft) Private
- (1948) Number 8
- (1948) Summertime:
Number 9ATate Modern
- (1949) Number 1Museum of Contemporary
Art, Los Angeles
- (1949) Number 3
- (1949) Number 10Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
- (1950) Number 1, 1950
(Lavender Mist)National Gallery of Art
- (1950) Autumn Rhythm
(Number 30), 1950Metropolitan Museum of Art
- (1950) Number 29, 1950National Gallery of Canada
- (1950) One: Number 31,
1950Museum of Modern Art
- (1950) No. 32
- (1951) Number 7National Gallery of Art
- (1952) ConvergenceAlbright-Knox Art Gallery
- (1952) Blue
Poles: No. 11, 1952National Gallery of Australia
- (1953) Portrait and a
- (1953) Easter and the
TotemThe Museum of Modern Art
- (1953) Ocean Greyness
- (1953) The Deep
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