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Jackson Pollock (January 28th 1912 – August 11th 1956)

Jackson Pollock (January 28th 1912 – August 11th 1956)

In a few days, it will be the 100 year anniversary of the birth of Paul Jackson Pollock.

Jackson Pollock using the impasto technique

In his lifetime, he was an influential American painter and very important figure in the abstract expressionist movement. His unique methods of staining onto raw canvas has been adapted by artists such as Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis and many other “color field” painters and a large group of contemporary artists have retained Pollock’s emphasis on the process of creation and were influenced by his unusual approach to making art, rather than by the look of his work. His work was evidently influenced by Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró.

Jackson Pollock was born in Cody, Wyoming on the 28th of January 1912. He had 5 older brothers and his parents were Stella May McClure and LeRoy Pollock — his father was born “LeRoy McCoy” but changed his surname to that of his neighbors after they adopted him following the tragic death of his own parents. Jackson was raised in Arizona and California. His first artistic education took place at Los Angeles Manual Arts High School, but he was expelled — as he was from another high school in 1928. Following one of his older brothers, Jackson moved to New York in 1930.

He began studying painting in 1929 at the Art Students’ League in New York, instructed and taught by the Regionalist painter Thomas Hart Benton — Benton’s rural American subject matter had a small influence on the shaping of Jacksons work, but his rhythmic application of paint and fierce independence had a lasting impact on Jackson. During the 1930s he worked in the manner of the Regionalists, being heavily influenced by the Mexican muralist painters (Orozco, Rivera, Siqueiros) and by certain aspects of Surrealism. During his lifetime, Pollock enjoyed considerable fame and notoriety, he was regarded as a reclusive artist — his main patron was Peggy Guggenheim.

Jackson Pollock using the impasto technique

He had a volatile personality, and struggled with alcoholism for most of his life. Whilst attempting to overcome this alcohol addiction, he underwent Jungian psychotherapy, his therapist, Dr Joseph Henderson tried to engage him through his art which left to the appearance of many Jungian concepts in his pieces. Since his death, it has been thought that Jackson may have also suffered bipolar depression.

From 1938 to 1942 he worked for the Federal Art Project and by the mid-1940s he was painting in a completely abstract manner, using a `drip and splash’ style for which he is best known — it emerged with some abruptness in 1947. Instead of using the traditional easel he affixed his canvas most commonly to the floor or sometimes to the wall and poured, dripped and splattered his paint from a can; instead of using brushes he used ‘sticks, trowels or knives’ (to use his own words), obtaining a heavy impasto by an admixture of ’sand, broken glass or other foreign matter’. This manner of Action painting had in common with Surrealist theories of automatism that it was supposed by artists and critics alike to result in a direct expression or revelation of the unconscious moods of the artist, in this way, he could also be said to have taken influence from Sigmund Freud’s theories of psychoanalysis.

Pollock’s name is also associated with the introduction of the All-over style of painting which avoids any points of emphasis or identifiable parts within the whole canvas and therefore abandons the traditional idea of composition in terms of relations among parts. The design of his painting had no relation to the shape or size of the canvas — indeed in the finished work the canvas was sometimes docked or trimmed to suit the image. All these characteristics were important for the new American painting which matured in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Jackson Pollock painting. Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist)

Pollock unfortunately died at the age of 44 in a tragic alcohol-related car crash in Springs, New York. In December 1956, the year of his death, he was given a memorial exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and a larger more comprehensive exhibition there in 1967. More recently, in 1998 and 1999, his work was honoured with large-scale retrospective exhibitions at MoMA and at The Tate, London.

24 January 2012

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