Jackson Pollock was an American artist during the 1930’s and 1940’s who created his own style of painting that gained him is notoriety and fame. The artist’s unhappy personal life, alcoholism, and untimely death in a car crash contributed to his legendary status (Pioch). Pollock’s style in the latter half of his career could best be described as action painting and while this is what the artist is most known for, he also produced paintings on par with Picasso during the first half of his career.
Jackson Pollock was born in Cody, Wyoming in 1912 and grew up in Arizona and California (Lapidus and Doughty). Pollock believed that “the wide-open land of these western areas greatly influenced his expansive artwork” (Lapidus and Doughty). In 1929 Pollock moved east to study at the Students’ League in New York under Regionalist painter Thomas Hart Benton (“Jackson Pollock”). Pollock spent a few years studying with Benton, painting images of everyday life (Lapidus and Doughty). In his late twenties, Pollock suffered a mental breakdown caused in part by depression and his alcoholism (Lapidus and Doughty). An expert who works to understand the unconscious mind, dreams, and emotions treated Pollock and influenced how his inside world would soon become the subject of his paintings (Lapidus and Doughty). In 1945 Pollock married American painter Lee Krasner and together they moved to East Hampton to get away from the busy life of New York and focus on their art (Lapidus and Doughty). It was here that Pollock would begin using the drip and pour style that made him famous. At the peak of his fame Pollock abandoned the drip style and began using darker colors and reintroducing figurative elements (“Jackson Pollock”). Collectors demanded new paintings and this pressure along with personal frustration lead to a deepening alcohol dependence in the artist (“Jackson Pollock”). On August 11, 1956, at age forty-four, Pollock died in a single-car crash while driving under the influence of alcohol. Both Pollock and his mistress, Ruth Kilgman, died on impact (“Jackson Pollock”).
During the 1930’s Pollock painted in a regionalist style, learned from Benton, with influence from Mexican muralist painters and certain aspects of surrealism (“Jackson Pollock”). The works he produced during this period were typical to this time period and resembled other artists’ works such as Picasso. Pollock’s piece “The Moon-Woman” produced in 1942 illustrates his earlier style learned through Benton. “The Moon-Woman” shares similarities with Picasso’s “Dora Maar Seated”. Both images use an array of bright colors, and portray a woman, though both women are portrayed in different ways. Each of these women have the trademark frontal eye and profile nose that Picasso is known for during his cubist period, although only one of these painting is by Picasso himself. Early in the movie Pollock, a documentary about the artists life, a distaste towards Picasso is evident when Pollock drunkenly rants about how his work is better than Picasso’s but Picasso is the one getting all the fame, glory and money. This rant ends with him screaming “FUCK PICASSO! FUCK PICASSO!” (Pollock). Although this film is only a documentary starring Ed Harris and not a biography of the artist himself, Pollock’s feelings toward Picasso are noted and expressed. These feelings of resentment are understandable when one views his early works and compares them to Picasso’s and sees that these works were at bare minimum on par with Picasso.
In the latter half of the 1940’s Pollock developed his signature style that can best be described as gestural abstractionism (Kleiner 791). Pollock’s style consisted of pouring, dripping, and splattering paint systematically on a canvas using sticks, brushes, and sometimes even basters (Kleiner 791). This new style came with a very unique way of painting. Pollock would lay his canvas on the floor rather than adhering it to an easel so he would be able to move around the canvas and sometimes even walking on the canvas (Lapidus and Doughty). Pollock was quoted saying, “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 form the four sides and literally be in the painting.” (“Jackson Pollock”). Painting in this manner allowed Pollock to more fully utilize his canvas and to better express his emotions through the movement of the paint. These drip and pour paintings never had identifiable objects, they were simply explosions of curving lines, color, and shapes that were Pollock’s way of representing the motion and energy of his inside world (Lapidus and Doughty). Pollock’s paintings allowed the viewer to see his movement around the canvas and every motion of the arm. There was a reviewer that once wrote, “[Pollock’s] pictures didn’t have any beginning or any end.” (“Jackson Pollock”). It is the movement of the paint within the painting that brings the viewer in and keeps their eyes moving. There is no “right” way to look at a Pollock painting, simply enter it and move through it the way the artist himself would have.
Some of Pollock’s more famous drip and pour style artworks include “Mural” created in 1943, and “Lavender Mist” created in 1950. “Mural” was created as a commission for Peggy Guggenheim (“Jackson Pollock”). This particular painting was one of Pollock’s larger works, although most of his works were rather large, measuring in at just over eight feet tall and just less than twenty feet wide (“Jackson Pollock”). It was intended to fill a whole wall. “Mural” features more freely flowing “strokes” and appears marbled when compared to some of Pollock’s other works. Shades of white, pink, yellow, blue, red and black swirl together to keep the viewer enthralled and their eyes moving around the canvas. “Lavender Mist” was one of Pollock’s last creations. Interestingly, there is no lavender or light purple paint in this work (Lapidus and Doughty). “Lavender Mist” is covered in rivers of white, black, grey, yellow, brown and pink paint, and it’s the line and colors that give this painting it’s visual energy (Lapidus and Doughty).
Pollock introduced the world to a whole new way of painting and helped to form the Abstract Expressionist movement. It makes a person wonder what else Pollock may have been capable of had his life not ended prematurely.