Paul Jackson Pollock was an influential American painter and a major figure in the abstract expressionist movement. During his lifetime, Pollock enjoyed considerable fame and notoriety. He was regarded as a mostly reclusive artist. Pollock had a volatile personality, sometimes struggling with alcoholism.
Pollock’s name is also associated with the introduction of the all-over style of painting which avoids any points of emphasis or identifiable parts within the whole canvas and therefore abandons the traditional idea of composition in terms of relations among parts.
Pollock was the first “all-over” painter, pouring paint rather than using brushes and a palette, and abandoning all conventions of a central motif. He danced over canvases spread across the floor.
Pollock said: “The painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through.” He painted no image, just “action”
Pollock was the major force behind the transfer of avant-garde art from France to the United States and the American idiom in which it was expressed. Jackson Pollock was the first American abstract painter to be taken seriously in Europe.
Pollock was born in Cody, Wyoming in 1912, the youngest of five sons. Jackson grew up in Arizona and Chico, California. Expelled from one high school in 1928, he enrolled at Los Angeles’ Manual Arts High School, from which he was also expelled. In 1930, following his brother, he moved to New York City where they both studied under Thomas Hart Benton at the Art Students League of New York.
In attempts to fight his alcoholism, from 1938 through 1941 Pollock underwent Jungian psychotherapy. From 1935 to 1943, Pollock worked for the WPA Federal Art Project.
In October 1945 Pollock married American painter Lee Krasner, and in November they moved to what is now known as the Pollock-Kranser House and Studio in Springs on Long Island, NY. There he perfected the technique of working with liquid paint. Also, he began creating his characteristic large scale artwork. His work was praised and dismissed at the same time. But he was gaining significant attention with a number of one- person exhibitions. While he was widely known in the New York art world, the rest of the world was introduced to him in August of 1949, when Life magazine did a piece on him.
Pollock observed Indian sand painting demonstrations in the 1940s. Other influences on his dripping technique include the Mexican muralist and Surrealism automatism. Pollock was already experimenting with Surrealist automatism, but after the War he settled in Long Island and began to develop the Action techniques.
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. Then, Pollock turned to synthetic resin-based paints called alkyd enamels, which, at that time, was a novel medium. Pollock described this use of household paints, instead of artist’s paints, as “a natural growth out of a need.”By defying the convention 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. Pollock denied “the accident”; he usually had an idea of how he wanted a particular piece to appear. 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.
Between 1947 and 1950 Pollock’s art matured with astonishing rapidity. He also began to receive national and international recognition. In 1948 Peggy Guggenheim included his work in an exhibition of her collection presented in Venice, Florence, Milan, Amsterdam, Brussels, and Zurich.
In 1950 she organized his first European one-man exhibition, which was shown in Venice and Milan. In New York, Pollock showed twice at the Betty Parsons Gallery in 1949.
Pollock’s most famous paintings were made during the “drip period” between 1947 and 1950. In 1955, Pollock painted Scent and Search which would be his last two paintings. In 1951, Pollock underwent a change in emphasis in his work. He gave up the use of color and instead created a series of black paintings on unprimed canvases. For the next five years after, he continued to struggle with his drinking and his art continued to undergo changes and he returned to using colors.
In his last year, he did not paint at all.
After struggling with alcoholism for his entire adult life, Pollock, on August 11, 1956 died in a single-car crash while driving under the influence of alcohol. That year a memorial exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art honored him. More recently, in 1998 and 1999, his work was honored with large-scale retrospective exhibitions at MoMA and at The Tate in London. When he died in a car crash at 44, he was one of the few American painters to be recognized during his lifetime and afterward as the peer of 20th-century European masters of modern art.
Pollock’s work has always polarized critics and has been the focus of many important critical debates. Balanced in his life on the edge of destruction and in his art on that of innovation, Pollock mirrored a chaotic world, one in which humans seemed to have lost control.