Jackson Pollock was an influential American painter and a major figure in the abstract expressionist movement. He was well known for his unique style of drip painting. During his lifetime, Pollock enjoyed considerable fame and notoriety, a major artist of his generation. Regarded as reclusive, he had a volatile personality, and struggled with alcoholism for most of his life. In 1945, he married the artist Lee Krasner, who became an important influence on his career and on his legacy.
Pollock was born in Cody, Wyoming, in 1912, the youngest of five sons. His father had been born with the surname McCoy but took the surname of his adoptive parents, neighbors who adopted him after his own parents had died within a year of each other. Jackson grew up in Arizona and California. During his early life, Pollock explored Native American culture while on surveying trips with his father.
In 1930, following his older brother, he moved to New York City, where they both studied under Thomas Hart Benton at the Art Students League. From 1938 to 1942, during the Great Depression, Pollock worked for the WPA Federal Art Project. Trying to deal with his established alcoholism, from 1938 through 1941 Pollock underwent psychotherapy Recently historians have hypothesized that Pollock might have had bipolar disorder.
Pollock signed a gallery contract with Peggy Guggenheim in July 1943. He received the commission to create Mural (1943), for the entry to her new townhouse. At the suggestion of her friend and advisor Marcel Duchamp, Pollock painted the work on canvas, rather than the wall, so that it would be portable. In October 1945, Pollock married the American painter Lee Krasner. In November they moved out of the city to the Springs area of East Hampton on the south shore of Long Island. With the help of a down-payment loaned by Peggy Guggenheim, they bought a wood-frame house and barn. Pollock converted the barn into a studio. In that space, he perfected his big "drip" technique of working with paint, with which he would become permanently identified.
Pollock was introduced to the use of liquid paint in 1936 at an experimental workshop in New York City by the Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros. He later used paint pouring as one of several techniques on 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 he developed what was later called his "drip" technique. 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 convention of painting on an upright surface, he added a new dimension by being able to view and apply paint to his canvases from all directions. While painting this way, Pollock moved away from figurative representation, and challenged the Western tradition of using easel and brush. He used the force of his whole body to paint, which was expressed on the large canvases. His technique combined the movement of his body, over which he had control, the viscous flow of paint, the force of gravity, and the absorption of paint into the canvas. It was a mixture of controllable and uncontrollable factors. Flinging, dripping, pouring, and spattering, he would move energetically around the canvas, almost as if in a dance, and would not stop until he saw what he wanted to see.
Pollock's most famous paintings were made during the "drip period" between 1947 and 1950. At the peak of his fame, Pollock abruptly abandoned the drip style. Pollock's work after 1951 was darker in color, including a collection painted in black on unprimed canvases. He later returned to using color and reintroduced figurative elements. During this period, Pollock had moved to a more commercial gallery; there was great demand for his work from collectors. In response to this pressure, along with personal frustration, his alcoholism deepened. Continuing to evade the viewer's search for figurative elements in his paintings, Pollock abandoned titles and started numbering his works. 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."
In 1955, Pollock painted Scent and Search, his last two paintings. He did not paint at all in 1956, but was making sculptures at Tony Smith’s home. On August 11, 1956, Pollock died in a single-car crash in his Oldsmobile convertible while driving under the influence of alcohol. In December 1956, several months after his death, Pollock was given a memorial retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City. A larger, more comprehensive exhibition of his work was held there in 1967. In 1998 and 1999, his work was honored with large-scale retrospective exhibitions at MoMA and at The Tate in London.
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