His name was Paul Jackson Pollock and he was one of the best remembered American abstract artists of the 20th century. He’s famous for being such a great influence on the abstract expressionist movement in the 1940-1950s. His paintings were the part of him that he wanted people to see, and he did have fame and fortune on his side during his short career. Pollock was a recluse of sorts, and an alcoholic; his struggle over alcohol failed in 1956, when he was killed in an alcohol-related car accident less than a mile from his home.
He’d been born on January 28, 1912 in the city Cody in Wyoming, to LeRoy and Stella May Pollock. The family moved to Arizona and then California while the children were growing up. He was the youngest of five children, and a troubled youth apparently, as he was expelled from two different high schools. In 1930 he moved to New York where his brother Charles was studying art, and he joined the Art Students League of New York. Thomas Hart Benton was art teacher to both brothers, and from there it appears that Pollock was only influenced by Benton’s independence and rhythmic painting technique, but nothing more.
With the invention of liquid paint in 1936 by David Alfaro Siqueiros, a Mexican muralist in New York City, Pollock first used it in a traditional manner. It wasn’t until 1945, after marriage to artist Lee Krasner and a move to a home in East Hampton in Long Island where he had access to a barn studio, that he began to lay the canvases on the floor in order to use his “drip” style of painting. The type of paint he used for his drip technique was called alkyd enamel. The “action painting” process was new and innovative, and the paintings that he made in that year attracted much appreciative attention by artists and critics alike. Pollock’s most active and famous period was between 1947 and 1950.
Pollock at one time admitted that he may have been inspired by one other artist whose works he saw in 1946. The artist was Janet Sobel, a Ukrainian-American who had her work on display in Peggy Guggenheim’s gallery starting in 1945. Otherwise he experimented on his own terms, trying to create paintings that did not have to relate to a physical or material object, but relate individually and psychologically to each viewer. It was for that reason he began to number his paintings, rather than name them, as a name might impress his own ideas about the work onto someone else.
Some of his earliest abstract paintings with the new paint were Composition with Pouring 1 and Male and Female. His last two paintings were completed in 1955, which he named Scent and Search. He did not paint at all in that last year before he was killed in the accident. Pollock had stopped the drip method in 1950, when he was at the height of his popularity, and began using dark colors. He reverted to adding figurative elements back into his paintings, and after that he used brighter colors.
Pollock’s legacy was left in the care of the Stony Brook Foundation, mainly being the Pollock-Krasner House and Studio in Long Island. They allow for regular tours by the public from May through October. Another separate entity, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, was started in 1985 sometime after Krasner’s death, and they generously provide aid for individual working artists with financial needs.