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POLLOCK

(Jackson Pollock, 1912-1956)

Jackson Pollock: American painter. He was an important practitioner of Abstract Expressionism. He was born in Cody, Wyoming, into a poor sheep farming family and was originally interested in sculpture, but joined the Art Students' League of New York in 1929 and was taught painting by Thomas Hart Benton. He developed a romantic Regionalist style influenced by Ryder during the 1930s. As a member of the Federal Art project 1938-42, he met a number of avant garde artists (he exhibited with de Kooning in 1940) and discovered Picasso's work andSurrealism (he was part of the New York Surrealist exhibition in 1942 and wrote automatic poetry). In 1939, he underwent psychiatric counselling and came into contact with the ideas of Jung. He began a series of semi figurative pieces, using symbolism from Native American culture (Navajo sand painting) and primitive art, influenced by the Mexican Rivera and incorporating a heavily applied technique which suggested violent spontaneity (e.g. She-Wolf 1943, New York).

Pollock was already experimenting with Surrealist automatism, but after the War he settled in Long Island and began to develop the Action techniques for which he is best known, dripping and throwing paint onto large canvases which were laid on the studio floor and only cut once the work was completed. He produced his first such abstraction in 1945. The intention was to avoid a focus for the work, to be part of it during creation (actually walking over it), to treat it as an object and to work semi automatically ('painting has a life of its own'). His attitude was later influential to Performance artists and happenings.

Despite his abstraction, Pollock used evocative, descriptive titles for many of these works (e.g. Cathedral, 1947, Dallas). The mesh of drips and dashes, often textured by the addition of sand and other materials, created a floating spatial rhythm. In 1951, suffering from alcoholic depression, he reduced his colours and began to work with black enamels of unprimed canvas. Dreamlike figures began to creep back into his work (e.g. Portrait and Dream, 1953, private collection). Pollock died in a car crash in 1956.

- From The Bulfinch Guide to Art History