Jackson Pollock was an abstract expressionist who revolutionized the art world with his unique way of painting. Nicknamed “Jack the Dripper,” Pollock drizzled, flung, and splattered paint on canvas. Instead of objects or people; his process, brush strokes, and colors were the “subject” of his paintings. Some of his masterpieces include Blue Poles, Autumn Rhythm, and The Deep.
Paul Jackson Pollock was born in Wyoming in 1912. His father was a farmer, and his mother loved art. Jackson was the youngest of five children, and had to compete for his parents’ attention. When his dad left the family, Jackson’s brother Charles became like a father to him. Charles was an artist, and he influenced his little brother’s interest. When their family moved to Los Angeles, Jackson enrolled in the Manuel Arts High School.
When he was 18, Jackson moved to New York City to live with his brother and to study art from Thomas Hart Benton, a celebrated painter of regional scenes and history. Jackson babysat for the Bentons and eventually became like one of the family. When his own father died suddenly though, Jackson was so upset that he got in a fight with his brother and was kicked out of their house. He struggled with alcoholism for the rest of his life.
Jackson made a living during the Great Depression creating art for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Public Works of Art Project. His artwork at the time was influenced by the symbolism of Native American art and the experiments of Pablo Picasso.
Lee Krasner, a fellow painter and Pollock’s future wife, took an interest in Jackson’s work and introduced him to her friends in the art world. One of their friends told the collector, Peggy Guggenheim, that Jackson’s paintings were “Possibly the most original American art he had seen.” Guggenheim loaned Pollock money to buy a house, and gave him an allowance to live on. Lee dedicated herself to promoting her husband’s work. Jackson Pollock was revitalized by his home in the country and the love of his supportive wife. The following years were his most inspired and prolific.
Life magazine published an article that asked “Is Jackson Pollock the greatest living painter in the United States?” The question changed the artist’s life. His next gallery show sold out. He became the highest paid avant-garde painter in America. Other artists resented his fame though. Critics called him a fraud. Pollock began to doubt himself. The business of self-promotion made Jackson feel like a phony. He agreed to be filmed for a documentary about his work, but he was so frustrated by the process that he began to drink again.
Although Pollock’s next show included some of his best known masterpieces, none of those paintings sold at the time. He wasn’t happy painting the same way again and again. So, he changed his style and tried new things with each painting. Critics disliked his new work, and Jackson began to drink more and more. He painted one more masterpiece, “The Deep,” before his succumbed to his alcoholism.
In 1956, Jackson Pollock drove drunk and crashed his car. He killed himself and another passenger.
Despite his struggles in life, Jackson Pollock was one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. His work revolutionized how art was made, how it was taught, and what it might be. Lee Krasner managed the sale of his paintings and how they were sold to museums. Before her own death, she set up the Pollock-Krasner Foundation which gives grants to young artists.
I am not a big fan of Jackson Pollock to be honest. As always though, my appreciation grows with investigation. I was especially interested to learn that – although Pollack didn’t paint images of nature – he was inspired by the energy and movement of nature. His A&E Biography shows a nice comparison of the moving grass and water around his home and the paintings he did when he lived there. Similarly, I never saw The Deep until I began this research, but it is a haunting painting. Maybe my favorite.
As a teacher, I resent Jackson Pollock for disrupting traditional art education and, as a butterfly effect, leaving so many children without drawing skills. Nonetheless, his work can be used to teach abstraction, movement, unity, and balance, and is definitely important as an example of art as process. I also favor him as a subject for aesthetics and history lessons. Whether you like his work or not, Jackson Pollock was a pivotal figure in art history – shifting technique, subject matter, values, opinions, and even the center of the art world itself. He is, therefore, worth studying.