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Artist Spotlight: Jackson Pollock

Riley is a new writer but has dabbled in creative personal works, spoken word, and film reviews.


Introduction to the Artist

Paul Jackson Pollock was born on January 28th, 1912 in Cody, Wyoming but moved to California at only ten months old. Pollock was the youngest of five brothers and born to a struggling farming family who struggled to make ends meet, constantly moving between Arizona and California for work. Jackson developed a rebellious nature in his teen years, being expelled from several high schools including the prestigious Manuel Arts High School.

From there, he studied under the established Thomas Hart Benton who was best known for his synchromist and American realist style. Sychromism is the act of painting abstractly along to music and is largely considered one of the first styles of abstract art. The American realist movement was more focused on the individual and usually depicted everyday life as a working class American. Both of these movements began around the mid-nineteenth century and greatly influenced Pollock.

Despite his fame and some commercial success, Pollock was plagued by psychological instability and alcoholism. He died in a violent single-car crash near his home in 1956.

Convergence - Jackson Pollock

Convergence - Jackson Pollock

Style and Rise to Fame

Pollock's claim to fame came during an art period named, "Abstract Expressionism." This period, ranging from the 1940's to 1950's, was often characterized by gestural brush-strokes or mark-making, and the impression of spontaneity. Jackson Pollock was a major contributor to the creation of this period. His art was also a major controversy that spurred on one of the biggest questions that come out of art critics, "What is art?"

What made Pollock's work so controversial was how abstract his pieces were. Some critics stated that because there was no story within the art, no feeling or motivation behind it, Pollock's work could not be considered art. However, there were notable critics who stated just the opposite such as renowned critic Clement Greenburg who helped bring Jackson Pollock's name to fame.

Greenburg had a very close relationship with Pollock and his wife, Lee Krasner, so much so that he was reported to hang out with the couple in the Hamptons from time to time. This perhaps could've been the reason behind why he pushed so hard to get Pollock's work recognized and praised.

He also argued that the uniqueness within Pollock's art came from how he created the pieces and the process that lead to the final outcome that was important versus what the final piece looks like. This is a trait we see often in modern art, as seen in a famous piece titled "The Fountain," by Marcel Duchamp.

Pollock created his pieces by pouring paint straight from a can or along a stick onto a canvas lying horizontally on the floor. It's often referred to as the “drip technique,” although that's not a perfect translation of the technique. He has also used a whisk, turkey baster and hard paint brush to experiment in paint application.

Number 1A, 1948 - Jackson Pollock

Number 1A, 1948 - Jackson Pollock

What Was His Impact on Art?

As a person, Pollock was described as gentle and thoughtful when sober, violent when drunk. These extremes found a balance through his paintings and Jackson often said that art derived from the subconscious. Through painting, Pollock felt as the subject he was depicting in each piece was himself, and all his various erratic moods.

While also starting the rise of the Abstract Expressionism, Pollock's legacy lead to the creation of the 'Pop Art' and 'Color Field Painting.'

Despite a tortured life, often times drunk and financially struggling, Jackson Pollock's unique art style lead to a revolution in Abstract Art.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Riley Smith