Art History, Artist Profile

Happy Birthday Jackson Pollock!


You’ve heard of him and whether you like his work or even understand it in general, it doesn’t really matter because Jackson Pollock is probably one of the most influential American painters and abstract expressionists. Pollock was born today in 1912 and is best known for his drip paintings.

He would lay large canvases on the floor of his barn and use household paints and hardened brushes, sticks, and other odd things such as basting syringes to apply the paint. This technique of dripping and pouring paint would soon be known as action painting which allowed him to move freely within his canvas and paint from any direction. He had once said, “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.”


“Lavender Mist” (1950)

You may just think that Pollock’s paintings are just splatters on a piece of canvas, but physicists have studied his works and techniques and concluded that some works display the properties of mathematical fractals that couldn’t be replicate by others. According to these physicists, these qualities grew as he continued in this technique and the artist might have tried to express mathematical chaos through chaotic motion. Later in his career he began numbering his works so we would have an more objective view of his pieces, and unfortunately we will never fully know what Pollock was intending for us to see. However, he was once quoted saying, “painting is self-discovery. Every good artist paints what he is”.


Me standing in front of “One: Number 31” (1950) at MoMA this past December

I remember when I was in high school we had to watch a documentary on Pollock. Obviously, I was familiar with his work but I had no idea what kind of struggles he faced as an artist and also as a human being. Even with all the fame and support he had when he was alive, he was an extremely private man with a volatile personality and struggled with alcoholism for most of his life. Eventually at the age of 44, he died in an alcohol-related single-car accident while driving with his mistress and another passenger. Psychologists now have identified that he might have bi-polar disease.

In 1945, he married Lee Krasner, another American artist who is probably the biggest reason why we all know who Jackson Pollock is. She managed his estate and career even after his death.


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