Jackson Pollock

Is your surname Pollock?

Research the Pollock family

Share your family tree and photos with the people you know and love

  • Build your family tree online
  • Share photos and videos
  • Smart Matching™ technology
  • Free!

Paul Jackson Pollock

Also Known As: "Jackson"
Birthplace: Cody, Park County, Wyoming, United States
Death: August 11, 1956 (44)
Springs, Suffolk County, New York, United States
Place of Burial: Springs, Suffolk County, New York, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of LeRoy Pollock and Stella May Pollock
Husband of Lee Krasner
Brother of Charles Cecil Pollock; Sanford McCoy; Marvin J Pollock and Frank L Pollock

Managed by: Scott Cohen
Last Updated:
view all

Immediate Family

About Jackson Pollock


Paul Jackson Pollock (January 28, 1912 – August 11, 1956), known as Jackson Pollock, was an influential American painter and a major figure in the abstract expressionist movement. He was well known for his unique style of drip painting.

During his lifetime, Pollock enjoyed considerable fame and notoriety, a major artist of his generation. Regarded as reclusive, he had a volatile personality, and struggled with alcoholism for most of his life. In 1945, he married the artist Lee Krasner, who became an important influence on his career and on his legacy.[1]

Pollock died at the age of 44 in an alcohol-related, single-car accident; he was driving. In December 1956, several months after his death, Pollock was given a memorial retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City. A larger, more comprehensive exhibition of his work was held there in 1967. In 1998 and 1999, his work was honored with large-scale retrospective exhibitions at MoMA and at The Tate in London.[2][3]

Contents [show] Early life[edit] Pollock was born in Cody, Wyoming, in 1912,[4] the youngest of five sons. His parents, Stella May (née McClure) and LeRoy Pollock, were born and grew up in Tingley, Iowa and were educated at Tingley High School. Pollock's mother is interred at Tingley Cemetery, Ringgold County, Iowa. His father had been born with the surname McCoy but took the surname of his adoptive parents, neighbors who adopted him after his own parents had died within a year of each other. Stella and LeRoy Pollock were Presbyterian; they were of Irish and Scots-Irish descent, respectively.[5] LeRoy Pollock was a farmer and later a land surveyor for the government, moving for different jobs.[4] Jackson grew up in Arizona and Chico, California.

While living in Echo Park, California, he enrolled at Los Angeles' Manual Arts High School,[6] from which he was expelled. He already had been expelled in 1928 from another high school. During his early life, Pollock explored Native American culture while on surveying trips with his father.[4][7]

In 1930, following his older brother Charles Pollock, he moved to New York City, where they both studied under Thomas Hart Benton at the Art Students League. Benton's rural American subject matter had little influence on Pollock's work, but his rhythmic use of paint and his fierce independence were more lasting.[4] In the early 1930s Pollock spent a summer touring the Western United States together with Glen Rounds, a fellow art student, and Benton, their teacher.[8][9]

From 1938 to 1942, during the Great Depression, Pollock worked for the WPA Federal Art Project.[10]

Trying to deal with his established alcoholism, from 1938 through 1941 Pollock underwent Jungian psychotherapy with Dr. Joseph Henderson and later with Dr. Violet Staub de Laszlo in 1941-1942. Henderson engaged him through his art, encouraging Pollock to make drawings. Jungian concepts and archetypes were expressed in his paintings.[11][12] Recently historians have hypothesized that Pollock might have had bipolar disorder.[13]

Springs period and his technique[edit]

No. 5, 1948 Pollock signed a gallery contract with Peggy Guggenheim in July 1943. He received the commission to create Mural (1943), which measures roughly 8 feet tall by 20 feet long,[14] for the entry to her new townhouse. At the suggestion of her friend and advisor Marcel Duchamp, Pollock painted the work on canvas, rather than the wall, so that it would be portable. After seeing the big mural, the art critic Clement Greenberg wrote: "I took one look at it and I thought, 'Now that's great art,' and I knew Jackson was the greatest painter this country had produced."[15]

Marriage and family[edit] In October 1945, Pollock married the American painter Lee Krasner. In November they moved out of the city to the Springs area of East Hampton on the south shore of Long Island. With the help of a down-payment loaned by Peggy Guggenheim, they bought a wood-frame house and barn at 830 Springs Fireplace Road. Pollock converted the barn into a studio. In that space, he perfected his big "drip" technique of working with paint, with which he would become permanently identified.

New techniques[edit] Pollock was introduced to the use of liquid paint in 1936 at an experimental workshop in New York City by the Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros. He later used paint pouring as one of several techniques on canvases of the early 1940s, such as Male and Female and Composition with Pouring I. After his move to Springs, he began painting with his canvases laid out on the studio floor, and he developed what was later called his "drip" technique.

He started using synthetic resin-based paints called alkyd enamels, which, at that time, was a novel medium. Pollock described this use of household paints, instead of artist’s paints, as "a natural growth out of a need".[16] He used hardened brushes, sticks, and even basting syringes as paint applicators. Pollock's technique of pouring and dripping paint is thought to be one of the origins of the term action painting. With this technique, Pollock was able to achieve a more immediate means of creating art, the paint now literally flowing from his chosen tool onto the canvas. By defying the convention of painting on an upright surface, he added a new dimension by being able to view and apply paint to his canvases from all directions.

A possible influence on Pollock was the work of the Ukrainian American artist Janet Sobel (1894–1968) (born Jennie Lechovsky).[17] Peggy Guggenheim included Sobel's work in her The Art of This Century Gallery in 1945. With Jackson Pollock, the critic Clement Greenberg saw Sobel's work there in 1946.[18] In his essay "American-Type Painting," Greenberg noted those works were the first of all-over painting he had seen, and said that "Pollock admitted that these pictures had made an impression on him".[19]

While painting this way, Pollock moved away from figurative representation, and challenged the Western tradition of using easel and brush. He used the force of his whole body to paint, which was expressed on the large canvases. In 1956, Time magazine dubbed Pollock "Jack the Dripper," due to his painting style.[20]

My painting does not come from the easel. I prefer to tack the unstretched canvas to the hard wall or the floor. I need the resistance of a hard surface. 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 from the four sides and literally be in the painting. I continue to get further away from the usual painter's tools such as easel, palette, brushes, etc. I prefer sticks, trowels, knives and dripping fluid paint or a heavy impasto with sand, broken glass or other foreign matter added. When I am in my painting, I'm not aware of what I'm doing. It is only after a sort of 'get acquainted' period that I see what I have been about. I have no fear of making changes, destroying the image, etc., because the painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through. It is only when I lose contact with the painting that the result is a mess. Otherwise there is pure harmony, an easy give and take, and the painting comes out well. —Jackson Pollock, My Painting, 1956 Pollock observed American Indian sandpainting demonstrations in the 1940s. Referring to his style of painting on the floor, Pollock stated, “I feel nearer, more a part of the painting, since this way I can walk round it, work from the four sides and literally be in the painting. This is akin to the methods of the Indian sand painters of the West.”[21] Other influences on his drip technique include the Mexican muralists and Surrealist automatism. Pollock denied reliance on "the accident"; he usually had an idea of how he wanted a particular piece to appear. His technique combined the movement of his body, over which he had control, the viscous flow of paint, the force of gravity, and the absorption of paint into the canvas. It was a mixture of controllable and uncontrollable factors. Flinging, dripping, pouring, and spattering, he would move energetically around the canvas, almost as if in a dance, and would not stop until he saw what he wanted to see.

Pollock's Studio in Springs, New York In 1950, Hans Namuth, a young photographer, wanted to take pictures (both stills and moving) of Pollock at work. Pollock promised to start a new painting especially for the photographic session, but when Namuth arrived, Pollock apologized and told him the painting was finished.

Namuth's said that when he entered the studio:

A dripping wet canvas covered the entire floor … There was complete silence … Pollock looked at the painting. Then, unexpectedly, he picked up can and paint brush and started to move around the canvas. It was as if he suddenly realized the painting was not finished. His movements, slow at first, gradually became faster and more dance like as he flung black, white, and rust colored paint onto the canvas. He completely forgot that Lee and I were there; he did not seem to hear the click of the camera shutter … My photography session lasted as long as he kept painting, perhaps half an hour. In all that time, Pollock did not stop. How could one keep up this level of activity? Finally, he said 'This is it.'

Pollock’s finest paintings… reveal that his all-over line does not give rise to positive or negative areas: we are not made to feel that one part of the canvas demands to be read as figure, whether abstract or representational, against another part of the canvas read as ground. There is not inside or outside to Pollock’s line or the space through which it moves…. Pollock has managed to free line not only from its function of representing objects in the world, but also from its task of describing or bounding shapes or figures, whether abstract or representational, on the surface of the canvas. —Karmel, 132 In the 21st century, the physicists Richard Taylor, Adam Micolich and David Jonas studied Pollock's works and technique. They determined that some works display the properties of mathematical fractals although this could not be replicated by others.[22] They assert that the works expressed more fractal qualities as Pollock progressed in his career.[23] The authors speculate that Pollock may have had an intuition of the nature of chaotic motion, and tried to express mathematical chaos, more than ten years before "Chaos Theory" was proposed. Their work was used in trying to evaluate the authenticity of some works that were represented as Pollock's.

Other contemporary experts have suggested that Pollock may have imitated popular theories of the time in order to give his paintings a depth not previously seen.[24]

1950s[edit] Pollock's most famous paintings were made during the "drip period" between 1947 and 1950. He rocketed to fame following an August 8, 1949 four-page spread in Life magazine that asked, "Is he the greatest living painter in the United States?" At the peak of his fame, Pollock abruptly abandoned the drip style.[25]

Pollock's work after 1951 was darker in color, including a collection painted in black on unprimed canvases. He later returned to using color and reintroduced figurative elements.[26] During this period, Pollock had moved to a more commercial gallery; there was great demand for his work from collectors. In response to this pressure, along with personal frustration, his alcoholism deepened.[27]

From naming to numbering[edit] Continuing to evade the viewer's search for figurative elements in his paintings, Pollock abandoned titles and started numbering his works. He said about this: "...look passively and try to receive what the painting has to offer and not bring a subject matter or preconceived idea of what they are to be looking for". Pollock's wife, Lee Krasner, said Pollock "used to give his pictures conventional titles... but now he simply numbers them. Numbers are neutral. They make people look at a picture for what it is—pure painting."[16]


Jackson Pollock's grave in the rear with Lee Krasner's grave in front in the Green River Cemetery In 1955, Pollock painted Scent and Search, his last two paintings.[28] He did not paint at all in 1956, but was making sculptures at Tony Smith’s home: constructions of wire, gauze, and plaster.[26] Shaped by sand-casting, they have heavily textured surfaces similar to what Pollock often created in his paintings.[29]

On August 11, 1956, at 10:15 pm, Pollock died in a single-car crash in his Oldsmobile convertible while driving under the influence of alcohol. One of the passengers, Edith Metzger, was also killed in the accident, which occurred less than a mile from Pollock's home. The other passenger, Ruth Kligman, an artist and Pollock's mistress, survived.[30]

For the rest of her life, his widow Lee Krasner managed his estate and ensured that Pollock's reputation remained strong despite changing art world trends. The couple are buried in Green River Cemetery in Springs with a large boulder marking his grave and a smaller one marking hers.

Legacy[edit] The Pollock-Krasner House and Studio is owned and administered by the Stony Brook Foundation, a non-profit affiliate of Stony Brook University. Regular tours of the house and studio occur from May through October.

A separate organization, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, was established in 1985. The Foundation functions as the official Estate for both Pollock and his widow Lee Krasner, but also, under the terms of Krasner's will, serves "to assist individual working artists of merit with financial need".[31] The U.S. copyright representative for the Pollock-Krasner Foundation is the Artists Rights Society (ARS).[32]

Lee Krasner donated his papers in 1983 to the Archives of American Art. They were later archived with Lee Krasner's papers. The Archives of American Art also houses the Charles Pollock Papers, which includes correspondence, photographs, and other files relating to his brother Jackson Pollock.

Authenticity issues[edit] The Pollock-Krasner Authentication Board was created by the Pollock-Krasner Foundation in 1990 to evaluate newly found works for an upcoming supplement to the 1978 catalogue.[33] In the past, however, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation has declined to be involved in authentication cases.[34]

In 2003, twenty-four Pollock-esque paintings and drawings were found in a locker in Wainscott, New York. An inconclusive debate continues about whether or not these works are Pollock originals. Physicists have argued over whether fractals can be used to authenticate the paintings. This would require an analysis of geometric consistency of the paint splatters in Pollock's work at a microscopic level, and would be measured against the finding that patterns in Pollock's paintings increased in complexity with time.[35] Analysis of the paintings by researchers at Harvard University showed the presence in one painting of a synthetic pigment that was not patented until the 1980s, and materials in two others that were not available in Pollock's lifetime.[36][37] In 2007 a traveling museum exhibition of the paintings was mounted and was accompanied by a comprehensive book, Pollock Matters written by Ellen G. Landau, one of the four sitting scholars from the former Pollock Krasner Foundation authentication panel from the 1990s and Claude Cernuschi, a scholar in Abstract Expressionism. In the book, Ellen Landau demonstrates the many connections between the family that owns the paintings and Jackson Pollock during his lifetime in order to place the paintings in what she believes to be their proper historic context. Landau also presents the forensic findings of Harvard University and presents possible explanations for the forensic inconsistencies that were found in three of the 24 paintings.[38][39]

In 2006 a documentary, Who the *$&% Is Jackson Pollock? was made concerning Teri Horton, a truck driver who in 1992 bought an abstract painting for five dollars at a thrift store in California. This work may be a lost Pollock painting but its authenticity is debated.

Untitled 1950, which the New York-based Knoedler Gallery had sold in 2007 for $17 million to Pierre Lagrange, a London hedge-fund multi-millionaire, was subject to an authenticity suit before the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. Done in the painter’s classic drip-and-splash style and signed “J. Pollock,” the modest-size painting (15 inches by 281 1/2 inches) was found to contain yellow paint pigments not commercially available until about 1970.[40] The suit was settled in a confidential agreement in 2012.[41]

In pop culture and media[edit] In 1960, Ornette Coleman's album Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation featured a Pollock painting as its cover artwork.

The British indie band The Stone Roses were heavily influenced by Pollock; they have cover artwork made of pastiches of his work.[42]

In the early 1990s, three groups of movie makers were developing Pollock biographical projects, each based on a different source. The project that at first seemed most advanced was a joint venture between Barbra Streisand's Barwood Films and Robert De Niro's TriBeCa Productions (De Niro's parents were friends of Krasner and Pollock). The script, by Christopher Cleveland, was to be based on Jeffrey Potter's 1985 oral biography, To a Violent Grave, a collection of reminiscences by Pollock's friends. Streisand was to play the role of Lee Krasner, and De Niro was to portray Pollock.

A second was to be based on Love Affair (1974), a memoir by Ruth Kligman, who was Pollock's lover in the six months before his death. This was to be directed by Harold Becker, with Al Pacino playing Pollock.[43]

In 2000, the biographical film Pollock, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, Jackson Pollock: An American Saga, directed by and starring Ed Harris was released. Marcia Gay Harden won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Lee Krasner. The movie was the project of Ed Harris, who portrayed Pollock. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor. Harris himself painted the works seen in the film.[44] The Pollock-Krasner Foundation did not authorize or collaborate with any production.[43]

In September 2009, the art historian Henry Adams claimed in Smithsonian (magazine) that Pollock had written his name in his famous painting Mural (1943).[45] The painting is now insured for $140 million. In 2011, the Republican Iowa State Representative Scott Raecker introduced a bill to force the sale of the artwork, held by The University of Iowa, in order to fund scholarships, but his bill created such controversy that it was quickly withdrawn.[14][46]

Critical debate[edit] Pollock's work has been the subject of important critical debates. The critic Robert Coates once derided a number of Pollock’s works as “mere unorganized explosions of random energy, and therefore meaningless.” [47]

In a famous 1952 article in ARTnews, Harold Rosenberg coined the term "action painting," and wrote that "what was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event. The big moment came when it was decided to paint 'just to paint.' The gesture on the canvas was a gesture of liberation from value—political, aesthetic, moral." Many people assumed that he had modeled his "action painter" paradigm on Pollock.

Clement Greenberg supported Pollock's work on formalistic grounds. It fit well with Greenberg's view of art history as a progressive purification in form and elimination of historical content. He considered Pollock's work to be the best painting of its day and the culmination of the Western tradition via Cubism and Cézanne to Manet.

Reynold's News in a 1959 headline said, "This is not art—it's a joke in bad taste."[48]

The Congress for Cultural Freedom, an organization to promote American culture and values, backed by the CIA, sponsored exhibitions of Pollock's work. Certain left-wing scholars, most prominently Eva Cockcroft, have argued that the U.S. government and wealthy elite embraced Pollock and abstract expressionism in order to place the United States in the forefront of global art and devalue socialist realism.[48][49] Cockcroft wrote that Pollock became a "weapon of the Cold War".[50]

List of major works[edit]

Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist), National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (1942) Male and Female Philadelphia Museum of Art[51] (1942) Stenographic Figure Museum of Modern Art[52] (1942) The Moon Woman Peggy Guggenheim Collection [53] (1943) Mural University of Iowa Museum of Art,[54] given by Peggy Guggenheim and currently on loan to the J. Paul Getty Museum[55] (1943) The She-Wolf Museum of Modern Art[56] (1943) Blue (Moby Dick) Ohara Museum of Art[57] (1945) Troubled Queen Museum of Fine Arts, Boston[58] (1946) Eyes in the Heat Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice[59] (1946) The Key Art Institute of Chicago[60] (1946) The Tea Cup Collection Frieder Burda[61] (1946) Shimmering Substance, from The Sounds In The Grass Museum of Modern Art[62] (1947) Portrait of H.M. University of Iowa Museum of Art, given by Peggy Guggenheim.[63] (1947) Full Fathom Five Museum of Modern Art[64] (1947) Cathedral Dallas Museum of Art[65] (1947) Enchanted Forest Peggy Guggenheim Collection[66] (1947) Lucifer The Anderson Collection at Stanford University[67] (1948) Painting[68] (1948) Number 5 (4 ft x 8 ft) Private collection (1948) Number 8- At Neuburger Museum at the State University of New York at Purchase. (1948) Number 13A: Arabesque- At Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven, Connecticut. (1948) Composition (White, Black, Blue and Red on White) New Orleans Museum of Art[69] (1948) Summertime: Number 9A Tate Modern (1948) "Number 19" [70] (1949) Number 1 Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles[71] (1949) Number 3 (1949) Number 10 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston[72] (1950) Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist) National Gallery of Art[73] (1950) Mural on Indian red ground, 1950 Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art[74] (1950) Autumn Rhythm (Number 30), 1950 Metropolitan Museum of Art[75] (1950) Number 29, 1950 National Gallery of Canada[76] 1950: Number 32, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf, BRD[77] (1950) One: Number 31, 1950 Museum of Modern Art[78][79] (1951) Number 7 National Gallery of Art[80] (1951) Black and White (Number 6) San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1952) Convergence Albright-Knox Art Gallery[81] (1952) Blue Poles: No. 11, 1952 National Gallery of Australia[82] (1953) Portrait and a Dream Dallas Museum of Art[83] (1953) Easter and the Totem The Museum of Modern Art[84] (1953) Ocean Greyness Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum[85] (1953) The Deep[86][87] Art market[edit] In 1973, Blue Poles (Blue Poles: Number 11, 1952), was purchased by the Australian Whitlam Government for the National Gallery of Australia for US $2 million (A$1.3 million at the time of payment). At the time, this was the highest price ever paid for a modern painting. The painting is now one of the most popular exhibits in the gallery.[88] It was a centerpiece of the Museum of Modern Art's 1998 retrospective in New York, the first time the painting had been shown in America since its purchase.

In November 2006, Pollock's No. 5, 1948 became the world's most expensive painting, when it was sold privately to an undisclosed buyer for the sum of $140,000,000. Another artist record was established in 2004, when No. 12 (1949), a medium-sized drip painting that had been shown in the United States Pavilion at the 1950 Venice Biennale, fetched $11.7 million at Christie's, New York.[89] In 2012, Number 28, 1951, one of the artist’s combinations of drip and brushwork in shades of silvery gray with red, yellow and shots of blue and white, also sold at Christie's, New York, for $20.5 million—$23 million with fees—within its estimated range of $20 million to $30 million.[90]

In 2013 Pollock's "Number 19" (1948) was sold by Christies for a reported $58,363,750 during an auction that ultimately reached $495 million total sales in one night which Christies reports as a record to date as the most expensive auction of contemporary art.[91]

Influence[edit] Pollock's staining into raw canvas was adapted by the Color Field painters Helen Frankenthaler and Morris Louis. Frank Stella made "all-over composition" a hallmark of his works of the 1960s. The Happenings artist Allan Kaprow, sculptors Richard Serra, Eva Hesse and many contemporary artists have retained Pollock’s emphasis on the process of creation; they were influenced by his approach to process, rather than the look of his work.[92] In 2004, One: Number 31 was ranked the 8th most influential piece of modern art in a poll of 500 artists, curators, critics, and dealers.[93]

view all

Jackson Pollock's Timeline

January 28, 1912
Cody, Park County, Wyoming, United States
August 11, 1956
Age 44
Springs, Suffolk County, New York, United States
Green River Cemetery, Springs, Suffolk County, New York, United States