Kalim Hussaini - Jackson Pollock and the Influences on His Work

Jackson Pollock was born in 1912 in Cody, Wyoming. His family left Cody when he was less than a year old. He spent most of his youth in Arizona and California. His dad worked on road crews as a surveyor at the Grand Canyon and other scenic locations in the Southwest, and sometimes took Pollock along with him. Later in his life, Pollock noted that the memories of the landscapes he saw in the Southwest influenced his artistic vision.

Pollock was told to pursue his interest in art while he was attending high school in Los Angeles. Two of his five brothers, Charles and Sanford, were also aspiring artists. Charles went to New York to study art with Thomas Hart Benton, a regionalist painter at the Art Students League. He suggested that Pollock should join him in New York. In 1930, Pollock decided to enroll at the League.

Under Benton, Pollock studied the basics of drawing and composition as he analyzed old masters paintings. Benton also exposed him to mural painting. From 1930 to 1931, Pollock posed for his teacher's murals at the New School for Social Research. Although he would not realize his interest in large-scale works for another twelve years, his experience with mural paintings is believed to have sparked this interest within him.

Pollock's early work was influenced by Benton's "American Scene" style. However, this was enhanced by mystical and dark additions that reflected the work of Albert Ryder, a painter who Pollock admired. A few other influences reflected in Pollock's early paintings were Miro, Picasso, Siqueiros, and the Surrealists. David Siqueiros was a Mexican muralist who had a workshop in New York. This was the location where Pollock experimented with the use of enamel and his techniques of pouring and dripping the paint on the canvas to attain impulsive effects.

In the 1930s, President Roosevelt introduced his New Deal that included work-relief projects. Pollock and some of his peers were able to work for the federal government under this program. Pollock worked for eight years for the Works Progress Administration's (WPA) Federal Art Project. Since he had a stable source of income, Pollock was able to develop his artistic capabilities. The paintings Pollock made during this period demonstrated his ability to portray his personality in his paintings, as well as "his complex synthesis of source material"(1). Towards the early 1940s, his work began to show influences of Native American motifs and other pictographic imagery. This was the beginning of a new style of painting for Pollock.





The She-Wolf
The She-Wolf (1943)

As Pollock was becoming popular, his personal life was in turmoil. He was going through a stage of depression and was having problems with alcoholism, a problem that stuck with him for the remainder of his life. On the advice of his brothers, he decided to undergo therapy and psychoanalysis. Even though it did not solve his personal problems, therapy did introduce Pollock to Jungian concepts and further drove his art along the symbolic path that it was taking.

In 1941, American and French painters were invited to a group exhibition of work. Pollock was invited to the event, along with Picasso, Matisse, Braque, and other established painters of his time. It was at this event where Pollock met his future wife, Lee Krasner. At the event, Pollock's art grabbed the attention of several people, including Peggy Guggenheim, who owned the art gallery named Art of This Century. This gallery portrayed the newest pieces by American and European Surrealists and abstractionists. Guggenheim was so impressed that she decided to become Pollock's dealer and started introducing his work to an audience that had a taste for futuristic art. The She-Wolf (1943) was one of the paintings Pollock made during this time of his life.

The Key
The Key (1946)


Pollock borrowed money for the down payment of a small farmhouse in East Hampton, Long Island in 1945 from Guggenheim. Today, this property is known as the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center. This site would be Pollock's residence for the rest of his life. There was a drastic change in his work after he moved to his new home. Before moving, "his imagery had been congested, his colors somber, and the general mood of his paintings anxious and conflicted"(1). After moving to his new home, however, "his colors brightened, his compositions opened up, and his imagery reflected a new responsiveness to nature"(1). This is clearly visible in his painting The Key (1946).


A little while after moving to his new place, Pollock would start what became the world-renowned technique of pouring paint instead of using the conventional paintbrush. This style of dripping paint earned him the name of "Jack the Dripper."

Pollock first started using his technique in 1936 at the Siqueiros workshop. However, it became his primary method of painting almost ten years later. By 1947, he started making thick-layered paintings that received mixed reviews from his critics. His admirers thought the new form of art was very compelling and fascinating. His critics defined his paintings as chaotic and senseless. He started getting a lot of attention due to many art shows. In August of 1949, Life magazine exposed his work to the nation and gave him the reputation as one of the leading painters of the time.

The increase in Pollock's fame coincided with his abstinence from alcohol for almost two years. This was the time when he painted some of his best work. In his farmhouse, he created his paintings by circling the canvas and dripping paint instinctively without really thinking too deeply about it. He referred to his style as "direct painting" and stated that it was similar to American Indian sand painting. Pollock said his technique was a way to express himself and what he was experiencing and feeling. His style was controversial during his time and still remains so, receiving many different kinds of interpretations. This has been the main reason why his art is still admired by the public, even though the public's taste in art has changed with time.

Pollock changed his style once again in 1951, when he started painting abstracts of human and animal forms. He also started using mainly black paint instead of a variety of color that his earlier paintings showed. This can be seen in his painting Number 7 (1951).


Number 7
Number 7 (1951)

This change in his style was not received well by his admirers. Some people believe this may have caused him to return to alcohol. His drinking problem lasted for the next five years. However, his art changed again and some of his old characteristics returned.

By 1955, Pollock's personal problems caught up with him and he stopped painting. It was also at this time during which him and his wife were going through some difficult times in their relationship. His wife decided to take a trip to Europe to rethink their marriage. That was the last she would see of him. On August 11, 1956, Pollock died as a result of the same problem he faced all his life; he was driving drunk and his convertible flipped, causing him to lose his life.

(1) http://naples.cc.sunysb.edu/CAS/pkhouse.nsf/pages/pollock
(2) http://www.absolutearts.com/masters/names/Pollock_Jackson.html
(3) http://www.kaliweb.com/jacksonpollock/art.htm