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Jackson Pollock

“Every good artist paints what he is.” – Jackson Pollock

During the late 1940s, Jackson Pollock’s radical approach to painting revolutionized what it meant to create art. By dripping, flinging and spattering paint onto his canvas laid onto the floor, he refuted centuries of tradition. No longer using an easel or even brushstrokes, Pollock used actions that engaged his entire body. He described it as “energy and motion made visible.” As one critic described it, the canvas was used an “an arena in which to act,” with painting becoming choreography. In an indication of the works’ radicality, after completing a new piece, Pollock asked his wife Lee Krasner, “Is this a painting?”

He was the first abstract painter lauded by the American mass media, and his celebrity was instantaneous. Like many of his peers, Pollock’s innovation came with profound self-doubt. Battling with alcoholism and depression, his meteoric career abruptly ended one night in 1956, when he crashed his Oldsmobile convertible and was killed. He was 44.

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“Like fabulous roman candles exploding across the stars…”

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Pollock Timeline

  • Born 1912, in Cody, Wyoming, the youngest of five boys. Family later moves to California.
  • Jackson follows two of his brothers to New York in 1930, and enrolls at the Art Students League like one of them. Studies with famed American Regionalist painter Thomas Hart Benton who became his mentor.
  • Throughout 1930s, interested in mural movement, attends Benton’s mural class, participates in exiled Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros’s workshop and is employed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) mural division.
  • First solo show at Peggy Guggenheim’s new gallery “Art of This Century” in 1943, fifteen oil paintings and several works on paper.
  • Marries artist Lee Krasner in 1945 and moved to a farmhouse in The Springs, East Hampton. Gallerist Peggy Guggenheim lends them the downpayment.
  • In 1946, paints on a canvas attached to a curtain stretcher laid on the bedroom floor, created his work The Key, a career breakthrough. Later in the year begins drip paintings.
  • Rockets to widespread fame in 1949 following a four-page spread in LIFE magazine that asked, "Is he the greatest living painter in the United States?"
  • First museum solo exhibition in 1950 at the Museo Correr Venice, travels to the Galleria d’Arte del Naviglio, Milan.
  • 1950, Hans Namuth photographs and films Pollock at work
  • In 1952, “A Retrospective Show of the Paintings of Jackson Pollock” organized by Clement Greenberg opens at Bennington College, Vermont and travels to Williams College, Williamstown, MA. Comprises of just eight works (1943-1951).
  • After struggling with alcoholism for his entire adult life, Pollock, on August 11, 1956 at 10:15pm, died in a single-car crash in his Oldsmobile convertible while driving under the influence of alcohol.
  • After Pollock's demise at age 44, his widow, Lee Krasner, managed his estate and ensured that Pollock's reputation remained strong despite changing art-world trends. They are buried in Green River Cemetery in Springs with a large boulder marking his grave and a smaller one marking hers.
  • A major MoMA show opens in December 1956, intended to be a mid-career exhibition but instead opened as a memorial retrospective curated by Frank O’Hara.
  • In 2000, Pollock was the subject of an Academy Award–winning film Pollock directed by and starring Ed Harris.
  • 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. The previous owner was film and music-producer David Geffen. It is rumored that the current owner is a German businessman and art collector.

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