The ‘drip’ paintings of artist Jackson Pollock have intrigued me for many years. At the start of my serious interest in art, I was in all honesty probably thinking ‘well anyone can do that.’
In truth, I would have known more about John Squire of the band The Stone Roses, who himself appears to have been inspired by Pollock when he ‘designed’ the record covers for the band. Eventually of course, Squire covered himself and his band mates in paint for that famous Kevin Cummins photo shoot.
It was only a combination of seeing the Ed Harris film ‘Pollock’ a few years back, and then seeing a genuine ‘Pollock’ close up at the Royal Academy a year or so after that, that I slowly ‘got’ the action painting technique. Like me, it seems the world has also caught up with Pollock more recently too, with some of his art now fetching in the region of $200 million at auction.
He was born Paul Jackson Pollock in January 1912 in Wyoming, the fifth and final son of LeRoy a farmer, and his wife Stella, both of Scotch/Irish descent. The family then moved to California and Pollock began to study at the Manual Arts High School before he was expelled. He moved to New York in 1930 to be with his brother Charles and promptly dropped using his first name, thus becoming known as Jackson.
At first he worked as a mural artist and then he picked up on the liquid paint technique at a workshop run by the celebrated Mexican muralist Siqueiros. Pollock progressed to working on canvasses laid out on the floor of his studio.
A strong influence on his new style was recognised as artist Janet Sobel.
‘I feel nearer, more a part of the painting, since this way I can walk round it, work from the four sides and literally be in the painting. This is akin to the methods of the Indian sand painters of the West.’
An alcoholic from a relatively young age, Pollock underwent therapy in 1937 to try and cure the illness. He also suffered a nervous breakdown in 1938. When recovered a few years later, he signed a contract with gallery owner Peggy Guggenheim in mid 1943. His painting ‘Mural’ which was commissioned for her townhouse, was declared as ‘great art’ by influential art critic Clement Greenberg who went on to declare Pollock as the ‘greatest painter this country has produced.’
He married fellow artist Lee Krasner in 1945, after meeting her when they both exhibited at the McMillen Gallery in the early 1940s. The couple moved out of the city and settled in East Hampton on Long Island. Life Magazine ran a profile piece on him and his fame was secured. Time magazine later dubbed him ‘Jack The Dripper.’
‘My painting does not come from the easel. I prefer to tack the unstretched canvas to the hard wall or the floor. I need the resistance of a hard surface. On the floor I am more at ease. I continue to get further away from the usual painter’s tools such as easel, palette, brushes, etc. I prefer sticks, trowels, knives and dripping fluid paint or a heavy impasto with sand, broken glass or other foreign matter added.
When I am in my painting, I’m not aware of what I’m doing. It is only after a sort of ‘get acquainted’ period that I see what I have been about. I have no fear of making changes, destroying the image, etc., because the painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through. It is only when I lose contact with the painting that the result is a mess. Otherwise there is pure harmony, an easy give and take, and the painting comes out well.’
Perversely, he then abandoned this technique in 1950 at the peak of his popularity among the elite of the abstract expressionists. His new work was darker and the work picked up the name of ‘Black Pourings.’
They failed to find buyers at a subsequent gallery show.
As a result, he soon returned to colour and his popularity returned, as did the pressure for new work, which in turn heightened his alcohol dependency. Sober, he was talked of as being ‘gentle and contemplative’ but ‘violent’ when drunk.
By 1956 Pollock had stopped painting altogether and was now working in the new medium of sculpture. He was also afflicted by money troubles, owing to sales of his work failing to bring him any personal wealth at the time. His marriage was also in severe trouble due to a combination of his continued struggle with drink and adulterous relationships. He had had an affair with Peggy Guggenheim many years before and rumours of alleged homosexual activity were also spoken of.
It all came to a sorry end, when Pollock drunk at the wheel, died in a car crash in the August of that year. He was 44.
As is often the way, his reputation grew after his death with major retrospectives at The Tate Museum in London and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, his legacy carefully controlled by his Widow Lee.
The Mumper of SE5
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