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Born on January 28, 1912, as the youngest of five sons in Cody, Wyoming. Paul Jackson Pollock’s Westerner identity would play a significant role in the development of his artistic style, often viewed by his admirers as uniquely American, self-reliant and independent.
After his abusive alcoholic father Leroy Pollock left the family, his brother Charles became like a father figure to Jackson and also awakened his interest in the arts. In 1930, both Charles and Jackson moved to New York City and enrolled at the Art Students League, studying under Thomas Hart Benton with whom they became close with. For Jackson, the figure of Thomas Hart Benton represented, as he said, “something against which to react very strongly, later on” which influenced his departure from figuration and praise for abstraction. The artistic experimentation of Pollock’s paintings reflects the strong influence from the Surrealist psychic automatism present in the works of artists like Joan Miró and Salvador Dalí. Pollock’s Action Painting was also motivated by a 1939 Picasso exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where other artists like Willem de Kooning were inspired to develop their own signature independent styles like Picasso did with Cubism.
In 1945 he married Lee Krasner, who was a successful artist in her own right and contributed greatly to the promotion and the legacy of Jackson Pollock’s work during and after his lifetime. Around 1947 Jackson Pollock began to experiment with “allover painting” which consists in an entangled network of lines, splatters, and drips from which emerged his iconic “drip period” paintings. While some heavily criticized Pollock’s works, other renowned critics like Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg praised them by stating, in Rosenberg’s The American Action Painters, that “many of the painters were ‘Marxists’; they had been trying to paint Society. Others had been trying to paint art – it amounts to the same thing. 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.” Battling with alcoholism throughout his life, Jackson Pollock tragically died on August 11, 1956 at the age of forty-four in a car accident under the influence of alcohol.
Early paintings in Pollock’s career demonstrate his interests in improvisational Jazz, Navajo sand paintings, the Mexican muralists, African sculpture, prehistoric and Egyptian.
Although Jackson Pollock had no subsequent followers of his style, he remains to be one of the most influential artists of the 20th century for his pursuit of artistic experimentation and is seen as the modern embodiment of the traditional misunderstood artistic Romantic Genius.