Artist and Musician Biographies


In this video, an artist demonstrates the techniques Pollock used for his drip painting.

Jackson Pollock was born in 1912 in Cody, Wyoming. His parents were of Irish descent; his father was first a farmer and later a surveyor. Jackson was the youngest of five brothers.

His family had moved to six different states by the time he was ten years old. While living in Phoenix, Arizona, Pollock explored rivers, hills, and Indian ruins, and often visited local Indian reservations. These experiences had a profound influence on him and on his painting and throughout his life, Pollock had an interest in Native-American art, and the artistic processes employed by Native-American artists.

The family eventually moved to California and in 1927, Jackson and his brother worked as surveyors. By this time, Pollock also had begun to use his middle name, Jack, instead of his first name, Paul. As a teenager Pollock began to drink, and this increasingly difficult addiction troubled him throughout the rest of his life and in fact was responsible for his untimely death. At an early age he found drawing, as well as alcohol, could be an outlet for his tensions. He was enrolled at the Los Angeles Manual Arts High School but was expelled for being a "troublemaker." After a year of probation he returned to the school, but left in 1930 without graduating.

Pollock then joined his oldest brother at the Art Students League in New York City. Here he studied with the famous regional painter, Thomas Hart Benton, who influenced Pollock not only in terms of his swirling compositions but also in a negative way in that he pushed realistic painting so hard that Pollock eventually rebelled against realism and became a non-objective painter. After that, Pollock's painting went through many phases and at one time or another, his work showed influences of Renaissance art, the Mexican muralists, and the great Cubist artist, Picasso.

During the Depression, Pollock did odd jobs and joined the New Deal sponsored Federal Arts Project (FAP). By 1937, Pollock was drinking heavily and for the first time underwent psychiatric treatment for alcoholism.

Pollock, while still a member of the FAP in 1942, was part of an important group exhibit, which included Arshile Gorky, Willem de Kooning (unknown at this time), Stuart Davis, and Lee Krasner. Pollock and Krasner became lovers, began to live together and were married in 1945.

Pollock was introduced to abstract imagery derived from the unconscious by the painter Robert Motherwell in 1942. During that same year he met Peggy Guggenheim who invited him to participate in the "Spring Salon for Young Artists," to be held in1943. She also commissioned Pollock to paint a large mural for her home. This mural, unlike previous murals by Pollock, lacked any visible evidence of Picasso's influence, and is considered one of his most important early works. Pollock had his first solo show at Guggenheim's Art of the Century Gallery in New York in 1945.

In 1947, while living on a farm near New York City with his wife, Lee Krasner, Pollock developed his drip paintings, which rejected the concept of traditional easel painting and the slow method of painting with a brush. Pollock laid his unprimed canvases on the floor and dripped, dribbled, and spattered the paint from a stick. This was a direct emotional and physical release of inner energy for Pollock. He had complete control over the flow of paint but the process was spontaneous. It was here that he developed the technique of the all-over composition, in which the painting has no fixed center of interest.

These paintings seem to explode with a dance like-movement, causing the eye to be confused before knowing where to look next. These paintings were an attempt to create an entirely new type of painting, which was innovative, improvised and spontaneous. Pollock would lay the canvas flat on the floor, stand over the canvas and pour and drip the paint onto the canvas, expressing his inner energy and perhaps torment. Rather than using artist's paints, he often would buy gallons of paint from Sears, including metallic paints. As he would move around the canvas and drip the paint, he would often try to become one with the painting, dancing and dripping and sometimes moving across the canvas, leaving footprints and debris from the studio. These paintings were unlike any paintings seen before. Needless to say, this was a major development in post-World War II painting and is considered by critics and art historians to be the most significant change in pictorial space in painting since the development of Cubism.

Many of Pollock's drip paintings from 1947 to 1950 are considered masterpieces, including Cathedral (1947), Number 1: White Cockatoo (1948), Lavender Mist and Autumn Rhythm (1950).

Between 1950 and 1954, Pollock's paintings went through changes which coincided with his increasingly heavy drinking problem. In these paintings he sometimes reintroduced figurative elements as in Number 29 (1950), developed vast areas of color as in the masterpiece Blue Poles (1952), and returned to using brushes in Ocean Grayness (1953) and White Light (1954).

During these years, Pollock was very successful at selling paintings but was becoming increasingly depressed and was having more frequent bouts with alcohol. Pollock again sought help for his problem and remained in therapy until his death in 1956. He produced very few paintings in 1955 and 1956, which may have made him even more depressed.

Jackson Pollock died in 1956 when he crashed into a tree while driving drunk. Technically, this was an accidental death, but to many who knew him, it was the inevitable outcome of his own self-destructiveness, and was hardly a surprise.

Page author: C.A.