Jackson Pollock, The paint drips guy (1912 – 1956)

Best known for his unique style of drip painting – which often found the artist pouring paint directly onto a canvas laid down on the floor – Jackson Pollock was one of the most influential artists of his time. He achieved considerable fame and recognition during his life, but ultimately, his life would begin to mirror the chaotic paintings he created so passionately.

Jackson Pollock’s Early life

Pollock was born the youngest of five brothers in 1912 and spent most of his youth in Arizona and California. His family encouraged his interest in art from an early age, especially his oldest brother Charles, who was also an artist. As a teenager, Pollock enrolled in the Manual Art High School in Los Angeles, but was soon expelled for starting fights with the other students. At eighteen, Pollock moved to New York City to live with Charles and study under Charles’s instructor, Thomas Hart Benton.

Like many artists living in the Depression era, Pollock took advantage of the Public Work of Art Project– a portion of Roosevelt’s New Deal – which allowed artists to work for $25 a week producing art. The project enabled him to produce scores of pieces of art, but it also served to fund his alcoholism – a problem he sought treatment for in 1937.

After completing his treatment, Pollock met contemporary artist Lee Krasner and the two quickly developed a romantic interest. They were married in 1945 and purchased a home in Long Island, with a barn converted into a studio for Pollock to craft his large murals.

His unique paintings had gained the attention of noted socialite and art collector Peggy Guggenheim, who commissioned him to create Mural (1943) for her townhouse. She would later offer him a contract that allowed him to perfect his drip technique in his private studio.

Pollock and the drip technique

Unlike most artists who painted in front of an easel, Pollock preferred to set his canvases on the floor, so he could walk around them and view them from above while he worked. Inspired by Indian sand-painting, Pollock began dripping and splattering the paint onto the canvas using brushes, sticks, turkey basters, and even his own hands and body at times.

Those lucky enough to watch him work described his techniques as dance-like, he moved around the canvas applying paint in fluid strokes. In some cases, Pollock would add other elements such as sand or glass to his pieces to enhance the texture.

Many of his contemporaries criticized the seemingly random nature of his technique, but Pollock insisted he always had a vision for the piece while he was painting. Possibly as a reaction to critics and to dissuade viewers from attaching their own preconceived symbolism to his paintings, he ceased to give his paintings meaningful titles and instead resorted to numbers followed by a year, like in his most famous painting No. 5, 1948.

Later life and death – The sad Pollock story

After Pollock was featured in an issue of Life magazine in 1949, his fame and notoriety soared.

His paintings frequently sold out at private exhibitions, and he was heralded by many as the greatest living artist. Despite his success, he was also deeply affected by critics who claimed he was a fraud. He soon returned to drinking heavily and the mood of his pieces became notably darker in color and tone. He transitioned to painting in black and white briefly, which proved unpopular but did not diminish demand for his work.

His drinking, combined with pressure from the public, took a toll on his marriage and his art. He stopped painting in 1956 and grew distant from his wife, who traveled to Paris without him that summer. Shortly after, on August 11, 1956, Pollock crashed his car into a tree near his home while intoxicated and traveling with two passengers, only one of whom survived. The artist was thrown from the car and died instantly.

After Pollock’s death, Krasner continued to live in their home in Long Island, adopting Pollock’s barn studio for her own paintings. She managed the sale of his remaining artwork and did her best to ensure his legacy remained a positive one. Before her death in 1984, she founded the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, which provides grants to young artists.

Real of fake Polllock?

Due to both his immense popularity and his unique style, Pollock had no shortage of imitators both during his life and after his death. As a result, the authenticity of his paintings has come into question on numerous occasions. In 2006, a documentary titled “Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock?” premiered, following seven-three year – old truck driver Teri Horton, who purchased a painting for $5 at a thrift store that some art experts believe may be an authentic Pollock.

The painting is unsigned; however, forensic evidence revealed fingerprints matching Pollock’s, as well as other indications of its authenticity. Horton has received several offers for her painting – one exceeding 9 million – but she refuses to sell it for anything less than $50 million.