Paul Jackson Pollock was an American painter who loomed large in the abstract expressionist movement.

He was acclaimed for his technique of pouring liquid household paint onto a horizontal canvas also known as the 'drip technique'. The method had a variation known as 'action painting', where the application of paint followed the motion of the artist's body! This method divided the critics. Some enthused about the immediacy of the creation, while others were scathing of its random effects.

Pollock was considered a great artist because he was able to create art pieces that displayed and delivered movement, vitality and flow. Moreover, he was seen as the main innovator behind the new American style of art known as Abstract Expressionism. Years later he achieved his potential when his famous painting “Number 16” was sold for a record $32,645,000.00 at Christie's in New York.

Paul Jackson Pollock was born January 28, 1912, Cody, Wyoming, U.S. and died August 11, 1956, East Hampton, New York. During his lifetime he received widespread publicity and serious recognition for his innovative “drip,” technique which he used to create his major works. Among his contemporaries, he was respected for his uncompromising commitment to his craft. His work and force of personality had enormous influence on his contemporaries and on many subsequent art movements in the United States and the world. He is also one of the first American painters to be recognised during his lifetime as a peer of 20th-century European masters of modern art.

The Pollock family left Cody, Wyoming, 11 months after Jackson’s birth. During the next 16 years his family lived in California and Arizona, eventually moving to Los Angeles, where Pollock enrolled at Manual Arts High School. There he came under the tutelage of Frederick John de St. Vrain Schwankovsky, a painter and illustrator who was a member of the mystical sect known as the Theosophical Society. He introduced young Jackson to European modern art, and encouraged his interest in theosophical teachings.

In the autumn of 1930 Pollock followed his brother Charles to New York City, where he enrolled at the Art Students League under his brother’s tutor the painter Thomas Hart Benton. He studied life drawing and painting with Benton for the next two and a half years, leaving the league in 1933. For the next two years Pollock lived in poverty. He would share an apartment in Greenwich Village with his other brother Sanford and his wife until 1942.

Pollock was employed by the WPA Federal Art Project in the fall of 1935 as an easel painter. This job provided him with security during the remaining years of the Great Depression and gave him the opportunity to develop his art. Pollock’s work was strongly influenced by the compositional methods of his teacher, Benton, and by the expressionist focus of the American painter Albert Pinkham Ryder. Pollock began producing small landscapes and figurative scenes such as Going West (1934–35), where Pollock utilized motifs taken from photographs of his birthplace in Wyoming.

In 1943, Pollock was given a contract by socialite Peggy Guggenheim at her Art of This Century gallery in New York. It was his first one-man show and was held there in November. Very late in 1943, Pollock painted his first large scale, called Mural (c. 1943–44). This painting represents Pollock’s breakthrough into a personal style in which Benton’s methods and linear invention are melded with the Surrealist free association of motifs and subconscious imagery. Pollock’s development from this point throughout the 1940s shows a struggle to find a methodology by which he could fuse his entire personality into painting.

In 1945, Pollock married the painter Lee Krasner and moved to East Hampton, on Long Island, New York. Krasner, whom Pollock respected as an artist, would handle his affairs with Guggenheim. She also supported him through his drinking and social awkwardness and extremes of temperament brought on by his drinking.

In 1947, Pollock first used the process of dripping paint onto a horizontal canvas in gradual stages. He would use physical sweeps of enamel or aluminium paint over the canvas. Recent research has showed that he employed a form of free association from which he began most of his paintings. The results were huge areas covered with linear patterns which fused both images and form. This was demonstrated in a whole series of painting such as Full Fathom Five (1947) and Lucifer (1947) Summertime (1948), Number Ten, 1949 (1949), One, Autumn Rhythm, and Lavender Mist, and the black and white Number Thirty-two, 1950 (1950).

During the late 1940s and early ’50s, Pollock had one-man shows of new paintings nearly every year in New York, his work being curated by Peggy Guggenheim through 1947, the Betty Parsons Gallery from 1947 to 1952, and by the Sidney Janis Gallery. In 1951 and 1952 Pollock painted virtually exclusively in black enamel on raw canvas, creating paintings in which his earlier imagery is evident.

In 1952 he returned to colour and mural scale in Convergence (1952) and Blue Poles (1952). He created his last series of major works in 1953; Portrait and a Dream, Easter and the Totem, Ocean Greyness, and The Deep, among other works. Though his output waned and his health declined after 1953, he did produce important paintings such as White Light (1954) and Scent (1955) in his last few years.

He tragically died in an automobile accident in the summer of 1956. As a person, Pollock was said to be as gentle and contemplative when sober but violent when drunk. He was highly intelligent, widely read and articulate. He believed that art derived from the unconscious, influenced in this by Jung and Freud. Pollock’s critical reception ranged from the supportive criticism of Clement Greenberg in The Nation during the 1940s, to Time magazine’s denouncement of him as “Jack the Dripper” a few months before his death in 1956.

Unfortunately, he did not profit financially from his fame and never sold a painting for more than $10,000 in his lifetime and was often without money. His work was more appreciated abroad. He did, for example have a one-man show in Paris in 1952. The French abstract artist Georges Mathieu stated that he believed Pollock to be the “greatest living American painter.”

Posthumous critical opinion strongly influenced by Greenberg has tended to emphasise the academic elements of his work and his viscerally sympathetic connections with European art movements and artists. He is now considered an iconic master of mid-century Modernism.


jackson pollock Peggy Guggenheim Federal art project Lee Krasner drip technique action painting Abstract Expressionism