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Artist in Focus : Jackson Pollock

In this section for Art From Us, we pick one artist to showcase their work and creative journey so far. Today, we look at Jackson Pollock.

Art From Us & Divvya Nirula introduce you to artists and their art. Underlining significant works, discovering creative practices. And giving you a glimpse into their studio.

Early Life

Jackson Pollock was born in 1912 to Stella McClure and LeRoy Pollock, in Cody Wyoming. In 1928 Pollock enrolled at the Manual Arts High school. This was the first time that he was able to formally train in art. Under the influence of Frederick John de St. Vrain Schwankovsky – Pollock was able to co-join the metaphysical as well as certain aspects of occult spirituality. This was shortly after that he studied the work of Carl Jung, the Swiss psychologist.

The 1930s would be exciting years for Pollock. He had the chance to observe Mexican muralist Jose Clemente Orozco and Diego Rivera. Pollock lived a life of poverty but he was enriching his artistic experience. His toughened exterior and his wild west upbringing helped him survive the first bout of crises in his life. His marriage to fellow artist Lee Krasner (1945) brought a stability in his life. She would remain his anchor.

Jackson Pollock and Abstract Expressionism

Pollock’s technique of the “drip painting” had been evolving over a period of time. His method of hurling and dripping thinned enamel paint onto the canvas became his hallmark. The physical engagement with materials, informed with movement, gravity and velocity allowed for improvisation. Pollock was able to have line and colour stand alone, functioning independently.

“On the floor I am more at ease. I feel nearer, more a part of the painting, since this way I can walk around it, work from the four sides and literally be in the painting.” – Pollock said about his “Action Painting”.

Pollock’s work was a part of understanding and healing his mental process. After the World War, in the period during the Cold War, Jackson Pollock, Willem De Kooning and Franz Kline owned the term “Abstract Expressionism”. The term was originally coined by the art critic Robert Coates. The work was not to be confused with Abstract Art – but rather the connection with the inner feelings that found an outwardly expression.

The figurative nature of Pollock’s Totem Lesson 1 (1944) and The Blue Unconscious (1946) contrasts with the heavily painted, all-over design of Shimmering Substance (1946) and Eyes in the Heat (1946). Which is indicative of the range of imagery and technique he employed during this
period.

Full Fathom Five (1947), Lucifer (1947) Summertime (1948), Number Ten, 1949 (1949), the mural-sized canvases of 1950 as One, Autumn Rhythm, and Lavender Mist, and the black and white Number Thirty-two, 1950 (1950)— demonstrate the inestimable variety of effect and expression that he
commanded through the method of “poured” painting.

Legacy

Pollock worked at the the Easel Division of Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project (WPA) in 1937. However with the end of the WPA, another door opened for the artist – by Peggy Guggenheim, where he became a custodian. It would gradually grow into a bigger role when he was given his first solo exhibition at the The Museum of Non-Objective Painting, now known as the Guggenheim Museum.

Pollock’s work was a compendium of elements of Cubism, Surrealism, and Impressionism. And it eventually transcended them all. He struggled with alcoholism from the time he was a teenager and was often in rehab to cope with the burgeoning problem. But throughout his life he created a powerful and rich body of work which is the embodiment of American Modernism; while Pollock remains a subject for many films and biopics.

Other important works from the 50s, his most creative, are – Echo (1951) and Number Seven, 1952 (1952). 1952 saw him return to colour and mural scale in Convergence (1952) and Blue Poles (1952). Pollock’s last series of major works in 1953 included Portrait and a Dream, Easter and
the Totem, Ocean Greyness
, and The Deep.


To learn more about iconic artworks and their socio-political context, visit the Artist in Focus archive.

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