Jackson Pollock

Jackson  Pollock
1912 – 1956
  • Born in Cody, Wyoming, youngest of 5 brothers
  • Depressive, alcoholic and absent father.  Family moved a lot.  He ended up in high school in LA and was expelled.
  • Influenced by native American art, especially sand painting.
  • Came to New York to study art at the Art Student’s League under Thomas Hart Benton. Didn’t make much headway, but took Benton’s energy and writhing line.
  • Interested in psychoanalysis and the unconscious.
  • His psychiatrist wrote him a letter excusing him from serving in WWII Her patient was a shut in and inarticulate personality of good intelligence, but with a great deal of emotional instability (Jackson Whole, John Updike)
  • Alcoholic (except for his two most productive years 1948 – 1950)
  • Idolized Picasso
  • Loved Jazz
  • Struggled  at first:  The struggle of a stubborn artistic vocation with a brooding, tangled temperament and a largely hidden talent (Updike). Wrestles with Picasso at the beginning:  1941 Birth; 1942, The Moon Woman; 1942 Male and Female; 1943 Guardians of the Secret etc.
  • Married Lee Krasner in 1945 and moved out to the country (Springs, Long Island)
  • Used household paint, hardened brushes, sticks, basting syringes to paint; also dropped cigarette butts, etc. into the paint.  Some works display mathematical fractals.
  • Was lucky:  championed by influential art critic Clement Greenberg and art collector Peggy Guggenheim.
  • Technique called Action Painting, Gesturalism, Abstract Expressionism
  • Time magazine dubbed him Jack the Dripper in 1956.
  • Drove drunk and crashed his car a mile from his home, killing himself and a young passenger.

The modern artist is working with space and time, and expressing his feelings rather than illustrating.

When I am in my 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 fear of 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.

A photographer, Hans Namuth, describes the process:

A dripping wet canvas covered the entire floor. . . There was complete silence. . . Pollock looked at the painting. Then, unexpectedly, he picked up can and paint brush and started to move around the canvas. It was as if he suddenly realized the painting was not finished. His movements, slow at first, gradually became faster and more dance like as he flung black, white, and rust colored paint onto the canvas. He completely forgot that Lee and I were there; he did not seem to hear the click of the camera shutter. . . My photography session lasted as long as he kept painting, perhaps half an hour. In all that time, Pollock did not stop. How could one keep up this level of activity? Finally, he said ‘This is it.


Jackson Pollock, Self Portrait, 1931 - 35 (?)

Jackson Pollock, The Flame, 1934 - 38

Jackson Pollock, Going West, 1934

Jackson Pollock, Stenographic Figure, 1942

Jackson Pollock, Birth, 1938-44

Jackson Pollock, The Moon Woman, 1942

Jackson Pollock, Male and Female, 1942

Jackson Pollock, The Moon Woman Cuts the Circle, 1943

Jackson Pollock, Night Mist, 1945

Jackson Pollock, Galaxy, 1947

Jackson Pollock, Full Fathom Five, 1947

Jackson Pollock, Cathedral, 1947

Jackson Pollock, Lucifer, 1947

Jackson Pollock, Number 23, 1949

Jackson Pollock, Lavender Mist, 1950

Jackson Pollock, Blue Poles, 1952

Jackson Pollock, Portrait and a Dream, 1953

Jackson Pollock, The Deep, 1953

Norman Rockwell, Abstract and Concrete, 1962

What is Norman Rockwell saying here?  Do you agree?

Then why is Jackson Pollock so famous?

John Updike has this to say:  Who cares which number drip-painting looks better or worse than another?  The artist is the thing; the works are just the shadow he casts to signify that he is in the room.

Do you agree?

And if he is just a celebrity, why are we fascinated?   What qualities did he possess that we admire?  And what is so fascinating about his work (it sells for hundreds of millions)?  Or is it all just the Paris Hilton Effect again?

John Updike finishes his review with this thought:  There is an American tendency to see art as a spiritual feat, a moment of amazing grace.  Pollock’s emblematic career tells us, with perverse reassurance, how brief and hazardous the visitations of grace can be.

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