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Jackson Pollock

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Jackson Pollock Biography

born Cody, WY (USA) 1912 died Long Island, NY (USA) 1956

Paul Jackson Pollock (January 28, 1912 – August 11, 1956) was an influential American artist and a major force in the abstract expressionism movement.

He was born in Cody, Wyoming, and grew up in Arizona and California, later moving to New York in 1930, following his brother, Charles Pollock, where they both studied under Thomas Hart Benton at the Art Students League. Benton's influence on Pollock's formative work can be seen in his use of curvilinear undulating rhythms and in the use of rural American subject matter. Pollock's early representational work was influenced by the Mexican Muralists David Alfaro Siqueiros, Jose Clemente Orozco, and Diego Rivera - and even worked in Siqueiros's experimental workshop in 1936. After visiting exhibitions of Pablo Picasso and Surrealist Art, his work became more symbolic. He traveled widely throughout the United States during the 1930's, but he settled in New York in 1934 and worked on the WPA Federal Art Project from 1935 to 1942. Pollock had for several years been in psychoanalytic therapy to try to cope with depression and this gave him an interest in Carl Jung's theory of primitive archetypes that formed the basis of his work between 1938 and 1944. These works were often violent and not well received at first.

Pollock's first solo show was held at Peggy Guggenheim's Art of this Century gallery (in New York) in 1943.

In 1944 Pollock married his live-in lover of many years, Lee Krasner and in 1945 they moved to The Springs, in the East Hampton area of Long Island. It was a large country house, and he eventually made the barn his studio. Pollock's style changed dramatically beginning in 1947. He began painting with his (usually large) canvases placed on the floor, and developed what was called his "drip" technique, or the more preferred term, his "pour" technique. He used his brushes as sticks to drip paint, and the brush never touched the canvas. This was an origination of action painting. In this process he moved away from figurative art, and changed the Western tradition of using an easel and brush, as well as moving away from use only of the hand and wrist - as he used his whole body to paint. Pollock was dubbed "Jack the Dripper" due to his painting style.

This change in style and technique came from many probable influences. In the winter of 1947-48, Pollock published a commentary in an avant-garde periodical, called Possibilities, addressing his new method: "My painting does not come from the easel. I hardly ever stretch the canvas before painting. I prefer to tack the unstretched canvas to the hard wall or the floor. I need the resistance of a hard surface. On the floor I am more at ease. I feel nearer, more part of the painting, since this way I can walk around it, work from the four sides and literally be in the painting. This is akin to the method of the Indian sand painters of the West. "I continue to get further away from the usual painter's tools such as easel, palette, brushes, etc. I prefer sticks, trowels, knives and dripping fluid paint or a heavy impasto with sand, broken glass or other foreign matter added. "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." Pollock did observe Indian sand-painting demonstrations at the Museum of Modern Art in the 1940's; he may have also seen Indian sand-painters on his trips out West, although that is debated. other influences on his "pour" technique include the Mexican muralists mentioned above, and also Surrealist automatism. Pollock "denied the accident" - he usually had an idea of how he wanted a particular piece to appear. It was about the movement of his body - over which he had control - mixed with the viscous flow of paint, the force of gravity, and the way paint was absorbed into the canvas. The mix of the uncontrolable and the controlable. Flinging, dripping, pouring, spattering - he would energetically move around the canvas, almost like a dance - and would not stop until he saw what he wanted to see.

Hans Namuth was a young photography student in 1950, and he was intrigued by what he called the "difficulty" of Pollock's allover abstractions. Namuth wanted to photograph and film Pollock at work, painting. Pollock promised to start a new painting especially for the photographic session, but when Namuth arrived, Pollock apologized and told him the painting was finished. Namuth's comment upon entering the studio: "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 dancelike 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." His account of this shows a man completely absorbed in the act of creation.

When the first set of these paintings was exhibited at the Betty Parsons Gallery in 1948 it was a sensation and a sell out. Pollock was able to take on a larger studio building and there produced the series of 6 paintings of 1950 for which he is most renowned. Pollock was profiled in Time Magazine as "the greatest living American artist" in 1951.

From 1938 to 1942 he worked for the Federal Art Project, in the 1950s Pollock was supported by the CIA via the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF).

Pollock's work after 1951 was darker in colour, often only black, and began to reintroduce figurative elements. Pollock had moved to a more commercial gallery and there was great demand from collectors for new paintings. In response to this pressure his alcoholism deepened. Pollock's career was cut short when he died in an alcohol-related, single car crash in 1956 at the age of only 44, killing one of his passengers, Edith Metzger. The other passenger in the Cadillac convertible, his girlfriend Ruth Kligman, survived. After his death, Pollock's gallery sold all the works left in his studio including many works that he had not intended to release.

His 1952 painting of Blue Poles was sold for $2 million, which was then the highest price paid for a contemporary artwork, when it was bought by the National Gallery of Australia in 1973.

He was the subject of the documentaries Jackson Pollock (1987) and Jackson Pollock - Love & Death on Long Island (1999) as well as a movie drama called Pollock (2000) starring Ed Harris. An earlier ten-minute documentary Jackson Pollock (1951) was directed by Hans Namuth and had music by Morton Feldman.

Select Timeline

Select Exhibitions

  • 1988 - Jackson Pollock: Images Coming Through, Jason McCoy Inc. New York, NY
  • 1989 - Jackson Pollock: Paintings & Drawings 1934-1952, Anthony D'Offay Gallery London, England
  • 1992 - Jackson Pollock- Pollock in the Mid-Forties: A Close-Up, Jason McCoy Inc. New York, NY

Select Artwork

  • 1942 - Male and Female Philadelphia Museum of Art
  • 1942 - Stenographic Figure Museum of Modern Art
  • 1943 - Mural University of Iowa Museum of Art
  • 1943 - Moon-Woman Cuts the Circle
  • 1942 - Stenographic Figure Museum of Modern Art
  • 1943 - The She-Wolf Museum of Modern Art
  • 1943 - Blue (Moby Dick) Ohara Museum of Art
  • 1945 - Troubled Queen Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
  • 1946 - Eyes in the Heat Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice
  • 1946 - The Key Art Institute of Chicago
  • 1946 - The Tea Cup Collection Frieder Burda
  • 1946 - Shimmering Substance, from The Sounds In The Grass Museum of Modern Art
  • 1947 - Full Fathom Five Museum of Modern Art
  • 1947 - Cathedral
  • 1947 - Enchanted Forest Peggy Guggenheim Collection
  • 1948 - Painting
  • 1948 - Number 5 (4ft x 8ft) Collection David Martinez
  • 1948 - Number 8
  • 1948 - Summertime: Number 9A Tate Modern
  • 1949 - Number 3
  • 1949 - Number 10 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
  • 1950 - Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist) National Gallery of Art
  • 1950 - Autumn Rhythm (Number 30), 1950 Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • 1950 - Number 29, 1950 National Gallery of Canada
  • 1950 - One: Number 31, 1950 Museum of Modern Art
  • 1950 - No. 32
  • 1951 - Number 7 National Gallery of Art
  • 1952 - Convergence Albright-Knox Art Gallery
  • 1952 - Blue Poles: No. 11, 1952 National Gallery of Australia
  • 1953 - Portrait and a Dream
  • 1953 - Easter and the Totem The Museum of Modern Art
  • 1953 - Ocean Greyness
  • 1953 - The Deep

Quotes

  • "My painting does not come from the easel. I prefer to tack the unstretched canvas to the hard wall or the floor. I need the resistance of a hard surface. On the floor I am more at ease. I feel nearer, more part of the painting, since this way I can walk around it, work from the four sides and literally be in the painting."
  • "I continue to get further away from the usual painter's tools such as easel, palette, brushes, etc. I prefer sticks, trowels, knives and dripping fluid paint or a heavy impasto with sand, broken glass or other foreign matter added.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"

Publications

  • Jackson Pollock - by Kirk Varnedoe, Pepe Karmel, Jackson Pollock, Museum of Modern Art, Tate Gallery, Harry N. Abrams (September 1998)
  • Jackson Pollock: Key Interviews, Articles, and Reviews - by Pepe Karmel, Museum of Modern Art (July 15, 2002)
  • Jackson Pollock: A Biography - by Deborah Solomon, Cooper Square Press; 1st Cooper Square Press Ed edition (September 25, 2001)
  • Jackson Pollock: Energy Made Visible - by B. H. Friedman, Da Capo; 1st Da Capo Press Ed edition (January 1, 2001)
  • No Limits, Just Edges: Jackson Pollock Paintings On Paper - by David Anfam, Susan Davidson, Margaret Ellis, Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation (April 2005)
  • Jackson Pollock - Love & Death on Long Island - Starring: Jackson Pollock, Ed Harris Director: Teresa Griffiths, DVD, BBC
  • Jackson Pollock - by Kirk Varnedoe, Museum of Modern Art (June 15, 2002)

Quick Facts

  • Paul Simonon, bassist from the English punk rock band The Clash who had previously attended art school, said "he had based their first -revolutionary- clothes designs primarly on Pollock's work."
  • Mancunian rock band The Stone Roses adorned their eponymous debut album with a Pollock-style painting by guitarist John Squire, with similar paintings appearing on their instruments and early singles covers. Pollock and his work also served as the inspiration behind several songs ("Full Fathom Five" and Made Of Stone). The song "Going Down" also features the cryptic line "Yeah, she look like a painting / Jackson Pollock's, Number 5." which is a subtle reference to cunnilingus, the focus of the song.
  • In an episode of Daria, "Daria's Dance Party," Jane Lane (in preparation for a dance) paints the school gymnasium in honor of Pollock's untimely death.
  • A 1989 episode of the show Unsolved Mysteries featured a group of scientists exhuming Pollock's grave and examining his corpse for signs of foul play relating to his death. No conclusive results were found, since worms had eaten his body.
  • In an episode of Entourage, Seth Green remarks that he blasted character Eric's girlfriend "in the face like a Jackson Pollock."
  • Pollock is mentioned briefly in the lyrics ("Now who you know leave the scene messier than canvases by Jackson Pollock throwin' multi-colored thoughts at a rapid pace") of the song "To Bob Ross With Love" by the Gym Class Heroes.
  • In the 2000 thriller, The Skulls, starring Joshua Jackson and Paul Walker, Jackson's female counterpart (played by Leslie Bibb) refers to her senior thesis, an animatronic device which via the implementation of various projectiles, spraying, and a prearranged canvas creates a totally random "work-of-art," as "Action Jackson," named after Jackson Pollock.
  • In an episode of Mike Hammer, Private Eye, Hammer gets into his bed, only to find someone else in it. He draws his gun and says "You make another move, I'll Jackson Pollock your brains all over the wall."
  • Pollock is also referred to in the lyrics to the song "Palace & Main" by Swedish alt-rock group Kent.
  • A public bench fashioned in his style is dedicated to Pollock on the 200 block of West Second Street in Chico, California. For a time Pollock lived in Chico.
  • Pollock (and the abstract expressionism movement) is featured prominently in the Kurt Vonnegut book Bluebeard.
  • In the videogame Enter the Matrix, a man pointing a pistol at Niobe announces "Anyone moves, and her brains are a Jackson Pollock."
  • In Miami Vice Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) tells the drug trafficker they are meeting with that if he doesn't cooperate, the wallpaper in the room they're meeting in is going to look like it was made by Jackson Pollock.
  • Woody Allen used a Pollock painting (not visible on camera) as the catalyst for a joke about optimism and despair in the 1972 film Play It Again, Sam.
  • On an episode of Red Dwarf, Lister tells of barfing off of the Eiffel Tower and creating a "Jackson Pollock", later, Kryton the robotic butler gets drunk and declares that he, too, will create a "Jackson Pollock."
  • In the movie Mona Lisa Smile, Julia Robert's character takes her class to see a Jackson Pollock painting.
  • Pollock is referred to in the lyrics of the song "Rock'n'Roll Nigger" by the Patti Smith Group.
  • Pollock is referenced in the movie Bride and Prejudice by Aishwarya Rai.

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