Jackson Pollock

Jackson Pollock

Jackson Pollock was an American painter, one of the brightest representatives of Abstract Expressionism of 1950s.


Jackson Pollock was born on January 28, 1912 in Cody, Wyoming. His family had moved to it only a months before Jackson’s birth and left for Phoenix, Arizona. The artist’s father, Leroy Pollock, earned for living with various odd jobs, travelling with the family across the country – he used to work as a farmer, mason, dishwasher, etc. All in all, he distanced from the family, rarely sending small sums of money and visiting kids on their holidays. In fact, Jackson was raised by his mother, Stella, ‑ it was her personality, that left the imprint on his art and life. He was the youngest of five sons, growing up reserved and isolated, suffering from sudden fits of anger (the boy was even expelled from school for them). At the age of four Pollock lost the tip of his right index finger in an accident.

From his early teen years future painter was carried aways with mystics – first of all, by the ideas of Jiddu Krishnamurti, who claimed truth can be discovered only with intuition, when one’s personality outpours. This concept impressed Pollock, largely defining his attitude towards the world.


Pollock received his education at Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles, where he met Frederick John de St. Vrain Schwankovsky, who was an artist and member of the Theosophical Society. Schwankosky prompted the young man’s interest to metaphysical and spirituality.

18-years-old Pollock moved to New York with his brother Charles. Together they attended Thomas Hart Benton’s class at the Art Students League. Benton was a representative of American regionalism – realistic movement (with leftist inclination). Critics thought him to be able to shape up basis of authentic American painting that could compete with European. It was Benton, who advised Jackson to change his image, to shift from a provincial nice-nelly to a cool cowboy. The teacher drank heavily and so Pollock did. Pollock had problems with alcohol till his death.

In the hospital

In 1934 the master completely settled in New York. In a year Brenton left the city. After that Pollock went on a bender. He lived for money he earned working for the Federal Arts Project. But that employment was terminated as he couldn’t complete commissions because of problems with alcohol. In 1938 Jackson Pollock underwent therapy in the Westchester Division of New York Hospital. There he spent around four months, during which his artistic vision changed radically.

At the hospital, the artist filled three sketchbooks with drawings. The first two contained images, which witnessed Brenton’s impact: his former teacher advised Jackson to learn from old master’s and one can see how the young artist attempted to achieve the dialog with geniuses of Italian Renaissance – Michelangelo, first of all. The third sketchbook strikingly differed from the rest, revealing another powerful source of influence. It was before Pollock had moved to New York, when he became interested in the art of Mexican leftist painters Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros, who were the most outstanding muralists of the 20th cent. There were 18 half-abstract pencile drawings in the third sketchbook, which reminded of the “Prometheus” fresco Pollock had seen in California in 1930.

Influence of Jungian theory and Surrealism

After leaving the hospital Jackson Pollock tried to complete his alcoholism and referred to then-popular Jungian psychotherapy. Hence he started reading treaties of Freud and Jung, which inspired him on creating a big series of surrealistic works (as well as seeing Picasso’s “Guernica” in 1939), full of symbols and biomorphic forms – like in “Bird” (1938 – 1941) or “Circle” (1938 – 1941). At the beginning of 1940s the master met art critic and adherent of primitive painting John Graham. Graham was interested in technically imperfect, yet soaked with mysticism, Jack’s pieces. Involving with Graham, who was knowledgeable of the occult, intensified Pollock’s enthusiasm about native American shamanism and shaped up the painter’s new image – a shaman-artist, who could travel beyond the limits of the reality.

In 1942 Jackson Pollock met Lee Krasner, a daughter of Jewish immigrants from Russia. She had already achieved certain success as an artist. Very soon they started living together. Karsner introduced Pollock to the vanguard circles of New York. For instance, she was familiar with an authoritative art critic Clement Greenberg and owner of the “Art of This Century” gallery Peggy Guggenheim. Greenberg and Guggenheim contributed a lot in Jackson’s popularity in the post-war America.

In 1943 the master participated in two exhibitions at Guggenheim’s gallery: the forst one was an international collage exhibition in April and the second one – “The Spring Salon for Young Artists”. There Jackson Pollock displayed his “Stenographic Figure” (1942), which Mondrian called “the most interesting work I’ve seen so far in America”. In the end of the year Peggy Guggenheim organized the painter’s first one-man show, which occurred to be a triumphant. James Johnson Sweeney’s foreword to the exhibition catalogue stated: “Pollock’s talent is volcanic. It has fire. It is unpredictable…It is lavish, explosive, untidy… What we need is more young men who paint from inner impulsion without an ear to what the critic or spectator may feel – painters who will risk spoiling a canvas to say something in their own way”.

In 1943 the authors canvas “Wolf” was bought by the Museum of Modern Art. Stylistics of that piece derived from the wall painting Peggy Guggenheim had commissioned Pollock for her dwelling. It was in “Mural”, where Jackson Pollock used images-symbols of animals and totems for the first time. “Mural” initiated a series of paintings, connected with that symbolical sphere, that significantly expanded the interpretation field of the works (“Guardians of the Secret”, 1943, “Pasiphae”, 1943 and others).

Three more solo exhibitions were held at “Art of This Century” gallery between 1943 and 1947. However, despite all exited reviews of the specialists, the artist’s pieces weren’t selling.

Springs period

Jackson Pollok married Lee Krasner in autumn of 1945. Just-married couple moved to a small house in Long Island, near East-Hampton. Here one of the most prolific periods in the artist’s creative life began. For several years (partly before and partly after their settling in Long Island) the master was elaborating his own system of visual symbols, which were more or less accurately corresponding to the process of unconsciousness and subconsciousness.

In 1947 Peggy Guggenheim found a new agent for Pollock – Betty Parsons, recognized for her refined taste and professionalism. The first painter’s exhibition she organized was a sensation and occurred financially successful. Pollock now was able to afford himself a big studio, where he would later create a series of six large-scale canvases in 1950. But Parson couldn’t secure regular sales to the artist, so the disappointed author entrusted Sidney Janis being running his business. Sidney was specializing on abstract and surrealistic art and he managed to sell one of his paintings for 8 thousand dollars – it was the biggest sum the artist had ever had in his life for his piece.

Dripping method

In 1947 he invents a special artistic method, when the canvas is placed on the floor and paint is dripped over it without touching surface with brush. It would be defined as “dripping” method, though Jackson preferred “pouring painting” term instead. For his invention the master got nickname “Jack the Dripper”.

He was interested in representing the deepest sides of his personality, in self-expression using painting. Jackson Pollock denied spontaneity – he usually had certain ideas before creating an image. It was achieved through combination of controlled (movements of his body) and uncontrolled (pouring paint, its “behavior”, absorbation into canvas). Hurling, sprinkling tints, the artist was actively moving around the work and didn’t stop until getting the desired result.

Jackson Pollock “abolished” easel painting. It was an attempt of radical reconsideration of the painter’s role. Now master didn’t have to care about representing reality (even deeply refracted through the lens of artist’s individuality) Pollock rejected plot and figurativeness. He tried to turn off his consciousness and to penetrate into the painting.

“Autumn Rhythm” is one of the brightest samples of new aesthetics, introduced by the American author. Public reacted differently on them – some people called Pollock’s pieces “gibberish”, while others saw them as continuation of Picasso’s and Kandinsky’s traditions; the rest believed “action painting” to be the start of original Grand Style of the country that corresponded to its love of freedom and vim. In autumn 1950 Hans Namuth published in “ARTnews” a series of shots, where Pollock was captured working over that canvas. The technique he had invented made a lot of noise and his works, displayed at the Venetian Biennale the same year, received numerous enthusiastic reviews of critics.

Sceptics often notice that anyone can do Pollack-like paintings; yet, Robert Hughes replied that none of Jackson’s followers could imitate his manner, as none of his epigones could control the pouring paint, as the master had done it. For the artist his experiments were the exploration of universal laws (“Number 11”, 1952).

Last decade

After 1951 Jackson Pollock distanced from the dripping tecnique, returning to more “traditional” methods. The coloring became darker: such works, as “Portrait and a Dream” (1953), “Ocean Greyness” (1953) witness that. Orientated on the commercial success and trying to meet collector’s expectations, the master began drinking heavily again under such pressure. “Scent” (1955) and “Search” (1956) were his two last canvases and he didn’t paint anymore.

Jackson Pollock died on August 11, 1956 in a car accident, while driving under the influence of alcohol.