Friday, August 03, 2012


Jackson Pollock has been considered by many to be the most important painter of the twentieth century. He was raised in the American Southwest and became active in the New York School of Abstract Expressionism during the 1940’s and ‘50’s.

Pollock ended his formal art education in l933 and began painting independently. It was the height of the Depression and making a living was difficult.. In 1936 he was hired by the WPA Federal Arts Project as part of Roosevelt’s New Deal. There he met other artists who would become influential in the New York School, including Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky, and Mark Rothko.. This assignment made it possible for him to have a studio and continue painting until the program was discontinued in 1943.

Pollock began his career as a regionalist landscape artist. However, exposure to the teachings of psychoanalyst C. G. Jung, an awareness of the concepts of Analytical Cubism, and the Surrealist’s method of obtaining material from the Unconscious called Automatism soon gave him supercharged imagery to work with. This gave his painting emotional urgency as he continued to work in an increasingly abstract direction.

His paintings usually began with more or less recognizable images. Heads. Parts of the body. Fantastic creatures. References to the mythology of Ancient Crete.. Wolf. Cow. Minotaur.

The images interacted with each other and not always peacefully. Sometimes they would try to mutually destroy one another, roiling up from his Unconscious..

Then in 1942-3 he triumphed over his autonomic imagery and produced his first masterpieces in a mature style.. Male ands Female is six feet tall. Curvilinear and rectilinear columns jut upwards like some savage temple. The night sky illuminated by white and orange astral fires lighting phantasmagoria, inscribed numbers, hieroglyphs.

A companion piece, Guardians of the Secret, was completed a year later with automatic writing and swirling calligraphy.

Inspired by Pablo Picasso and using Picasso’s African Masks as a point of departure, Pollock actually out-Picassos Picasso. At this time he was still using conventional artist’s equipment. Easel, palette, stretched canvas, brushes that actually touched the canvas. He still had not made the breakthroughs that would earn him world fame.

There is a legend Pollock’s first drip painting was done in an orgy of creativity using glass turkey basters, breaking them and throwing the broken glass into the panting, then wading in with his bare feet, cutting his feet and bleeding his blood into the painting as well.

Whether this is true or not, Pollock didn’t dream this up on the spur of the moment. Dripping and pouring had been in use for at least ten years by other artists, although usually for decorative or coloristic purposes..

Jackson Pollock wanted a type of painting that would completely break with the artistic tradition.

He used enamel, aluminum and industrial paints.

Instead of an easel he lay unstretched canvas on the floor so he could walk around it and approach it equally from all four sides.

The paint was applied by pouring or by dripping it with a stick onto the canvas. The canvas was never touched by paintbrush or implement.

The speed of the painting earned him the title of an "Action Painter."

The size of his paintings was phenomenal. The size determined by his height and the reach of his arms.

The result was the complete transmutation and transcendence of his painting style.

For the first time we have pure or utter abstraction, because in essence figuration would be impossible with the drip technique. (Compare the William S. Burroughs Cut up Method in literature and the hour long jazz improvisations of John Coltrane in music.)

Jackson Pollock married Lee Krasner, also a painter, in 1945. She became his business partner and manager. Through her he met Peggy Guggenheim, the eminent collector and art dealer, who helped him rent a farmhouse in the South Hamptons.

For much of his life, Pollock was afflicted with Alcoholism. He sought treatment on numerous occasions only to relapse. During the last two years of his life he fell into a deep depression and painted very seldom.

On August 11, 1956, he was killed in an automobile crash near his home. He was under the influence of alcohol. He was 44 years old..

In 2004, No. 5 by Jackson Pollock, painted in 1948, sold for $140,000,000 to an undisclosed buyer.


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