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Who is Jackson Pollock?

By Garry Crystal
Updated May 23, 2024
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Jackson Pollock was born in Cody, Wyoming in 1912. He was the fifth and youngest son of LeRoy McCoy Pollock and Stella McClure Pollock. His father was a farmer and later a surveyor. In his later life, Pollock would claim that the panoramic American landscapes he saw as a child were an influence on his paintings.

After attending Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles, California, Pollock enrolled at the Art Students League in New York City, where he studied under Regionalist painter, Thomas Hart Benton. In Benton's class, Pollock learned the basics of drawing and composition. He also studied mural painting and analyzed the works of the old masters.

Surrealist artists such as Miro and Picasso were an influence on the young Jackson Pollock. Another influence was the Mexican muralist, David Alfaro Siqueiros. In 1936, Siqueiros taught at an experimental workshop in New York. It was there that Jackson Pollock first encountered the artistic techniques for which he is most famously known -- the pouring and throwing of liquid material to achieve unpremeditated results.

Pollock enrolled in the Works Progress Administration's Federal Art Project, through which he was able to fund his art. This provided him with an income for nearly eight years and allowed him to devote his time to painting. His work became more complex in nature and a personal style began to develop.

Although his work was maturing during this period, Jackson Pollock suffered from personal problems. Pollock suffered from recurring bouts of depression and struggled with alcoholism. His brothers Charles and Sandford, also artists, were living with Pollock at the time and encouraged him to seek help. Although psychoanalysis did little to help, it introduced Pollock to the theories of Jung, which upheld the direction his art was taking.

It was around this time that Jackson Pollock met artist Lee Krasner, who he later married. Krasner saw the potential and talent in Pollock's work and it was not long before New York art patrons also recognized his extraordinary talent. Peggy Guggenheim became Pollock's dealer and patron, showing his work at her gallery to New York's art lovers.

Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner moved from New York to a rural hamlet on Long Island. The influences he encountered with the proximity to nature affected his work. The colors he used were brighter than those he painted with in New York, and it was here that he developed his famous pouring technique. Pollock spread canvases out in his barn and let the liquid flow spontaneously. In 1947, Jackson Pollock was hailed as the most powerful painter in contemporary America.

However, none of this praise was able to stem Pollock's personal demons. He revised his art many times, but struggled unsuccessfully with his drinking problem. In 1955, he gave up painting altogether and became estranged from Krasner. In 1956, Jackson Pollock killed himself and another person while driving drunk. His work is now shown in museums the world over, and the price tag for an original Jackson Pollock would set you back over a million dollars.

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Discussion Comments
By Lincoln2 — On Sep 24, 2013

In Denmark there is a painting of Jackson Pollock from 1948-49 -- a large signed one. You can see it online at the Danish Museum.

By roser — On May 14, 2011

I agree with @robert13. I like Jackson Pollock, but I think that painting is grossly overpriced. For that amount of money I'd rather something from Picasso's blue period or something like that.

By robert13 — On May 13, 2011

@rjh is right that No. 5 is the most expensive painting in the world, I think it sold for about $140 million. I don't think any painting is worth that much, let alone No. 5.

By rjh — On May 11, 2011

It's unfortunate that some of the most gifted artists seemed destined to live tragic lives. Jackson Pollock's No. 5, 1948 is now one of the most expensive paintings in the world. A lot of people slot Pollock into the area of art they just "don't get" - the common expression being "my kid could paint that"; but there's nothing to "get" about abstract expressionism, it either moves you or it doesn't. It very much helps to see these paintings in person if possible. My first "awakening" to abstract expressionism was at a Rothko exhibition, who also famously suffered from alcoholism.

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