JACKSON POLLOCK: Abstract Expressionist Extraordinaire

Painter Jackson Pollock working in his studio, dropping paint onto canvas - photo Galerie Magazine

Jackson Pollock was an American artist and a major figure in the abstract expressionist movement of the 20th century. He is best known for his drip technique, which involved the pouring or splashing paint onto a canvas set horizontally.

Early Years and Education

Jackson Pollock portrait – photo by lraber.info

Pollock was born Paul Jackson Pollock on the 28th of January 1912, in the town of Cody, Wyoming. His parents were Stella Mae McClure and LeRoy Pollock, both of whom came from Tingley, Iowa. Pollock’s father’s last name used to be McCoy, but he changed it to Pollock after his adoptive parents. Pollock’s father was a farmer who later became a land surveyor for the government. His mother was a weaver who used to make and sell dresses. In 1912, the Pollocks left Cody and moved to San Diego. Pollock was ten months old at the time of the move.

Pollock grew up living in both Arizona and California. In 1928, he attended the Los Angeles Manual Arts High School but was expelled. In 1930, he followed his older brother Charles to New York to study at the Art Student League under Thomas Hart Benton, a regionalist painter. Benton would become Pollock’s mentor and provided much-needed encouragement for the artist. Pollock even spent some time with Benton and another student travelling throughout the western United States.

In the early 1930s, Pollock kept coming back to New York, before finally settling there permanently in 1934.

Early Career

“Composition with Masked Forms,” by Jackson Pollock, is a 1941 oil on canvas – photo by The Portland Press Herald

Pollock started working for Work Progress Administration Federal Arts Project in New York. He also collaborated with David Alfaro Siqueiros and his innovative workshop. In 1943, Pollock briefly worked for the Museum of Non-Objective Painting (the forerunner of the Guggenheim Museum) as a maintenance man. It was there that he met Peggy Guggenheim, who recognized his talent and commissioned Pollock to create an 8 foot by 20 foot mural for her home. He also received a gallery contract from her that lasted until 1947. Eventually, he had his first solo show at the Guggenheim’s Art of this Century.

All through the early 1940s, Pollock was heavily influenced by the works of Pablo Picasso and surrealism. During this period, he contributed several paintings to exhibitions of abstract art. By the mid-1940s he was painting exclusively in an abstract manner.

Drip Period

Jackson Pollock, Drip Painting, Big Bang Theory – photo by Swarez Art

As the 1940s drew to a close, Pollock came up with his signature technique of painting known as drip style. Before this, he was slowly rising in popularity, but it’s this style that catapulted him to artistic superstar status.

The drip style involved the use of sticks, trowels, or knives to drip or splatter paint onto a canvas laid flat on a horizontal surface. It also frequently involved pouring paint directly from the can. The style also invoked the same notions as the subconscious and automatic paintings of the surrealists. This style, which was also called “action paintings,” greatly revolutionized and furthered the development of the abstract expressionist movement.

Pollock and his art were featured in a four-page spread in a 1949 edition of Life magazine, which asked whether he was the greatest living painter in the United States. The article served as Pollock’s introduction to the general public, making his name a household word. At the peak of his fame, he decided to abandon this style of painting in the early 1950s.

Lee Krasner

Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner in Pollock’s studio – photo by Alchetron, The Free Social Encyclopedia

Pollock met fellow artist Lee Krasner in 1942 when they both exhibited at the McMillen Gallery in the same year. They were married in 1945 and moved out of the city to the East Hamptons in Long Island. There, they bought a wood frame house and barn, which became their home and studio. It was there where he perfected his drip technique.

Krasner’s contribution to Pollock’s success cannot be underestimated. It was her knowledge and training in modern art and techniques that helped Pollock stay current in what contemporary art should be. She also held quite a considerable sway as to what went into his art pieces, at least during the early part of their marriage. She also introduced him to collectors, critics, fellow artists, and other people who could help further his career.

Pollack had an impact on Krasner’s artwork as well, with a number of her husband’s techniques appearing in her art.

However, Pollock’s relationship with his wife had soured by 1956, mostly due to his rampant alcoholism and infidelity with Ruth Kligman.

Career After the Drip Technique

Greyed Rainbow, 1953 by Jackson Pollock – photo by Jackson-Pollock.org

By the 1950s, Pollock’s work became darker, even including a collection painted in black over an unprimed canvas. The art world did not welcome this change of style. In fact, the collection of black paintings nearly went unsold. This new direction to his art was not what his collectors wanted. However, the said collection was a way for Pollock to create a balance between abstraction, for which he was known for, and the use of depictions of a figure.

As a compromise, he did return to the use of colour in his subsequent works while still incorporating figurative elements to it. Pollock then switched to Sidney Janis Gallery, which catered to more commercial works. This move helped boost the demand for his artwork.

Sadly, the increased pressure on Pollock worsened his alcoholism. Pollock produced his last two paintings in 1955. The following year, he started making sculptures using wire, gauze and plaster, but still following the same techniques he used on his paintings.

Alcoholism and Death

Pollock had been an alcoholic since the late 1930s. While he was able to keep his addiction in check through most of his career, it had a greater impact on in his last years. On August 11, 1956, Pollock was involved in an accident that took his life and one of his passengers. The artist was driving under the influence of alcohol.

Influences and Style

Jackson Pollock’s Mural installed in the old University of Iowa Museum of Art – photo by Iowa Source

During his lifetime, Pollock was influenced by several factors. At a young age, he was exposed to Native American culture and art. He also was quite enamoured with the murals of Jose Clemente Orozco and Diego Rivera. The greatest influences in his art, however, were those of Thomas Hart Benton, Pablo Picasso and Joan Miro. From the latter two, he learned about surrealism, which gave rise to his style of abstract expressionism.

Early on, Pollock’s style moved away from figurative representation. He decided to eschew the use of the traditional painter’s tools such as the paintbrush and the easel. Instead, he created his art through unconventional means.


In 2000, a movie about Jackson Pollock’s life was released starring Ed Harris. The movie highlighted Pollock’s immense contribution to abstract expressionism and the art world. His unusual style and techniques are still being discussed and imitated up to this day, while his artworks are still exhibited in major galleries around the world. Pollock’s paintings now sell for hundreds of millions of dollars. He and his works have also permeated pop culture and even inspired computer-based research. Despite a troubled life, Pollock’s legacy lives on.