“Every so often, a painter has to destroy painting. Cézanne did it, Picasso did it with Cubism and then Pollock did it. He busted our idea of a picture all to hell. Then there could be new paintings again.” Such are the words of Dutch-American Abstract Expressionist, Willem de Kooning. His statement still holds true today, there is a pre-Pollock era of modern art and a post-Pollock era. In this edition of KAZoART’s Art in a Minute, let’s sift through the splatters and drips to see what made Jackson Pollock the benchmark of 20th century art.

Jackson Pollock in front of ‘Summertime: Number 9A’ for LIFE magazine, 1949

Jackson Pollock was…

…never paid more than $10,000 for a work during his lifetime

Despite his present renown and the exorbitant price tag on any canvas he ever touched, Pollock spent most of his life in dire financial situations. The youngest of five brothers, he was a high school drop-out that had to work odd jobs in order to stay afloat. During the Great Depression, he stole food and gasoline in order to make ends meet. It wasn’t until he was hired at the WPA (Works Progress Association) that he found some financial stability.

The irony of the situation is lost on the fact that two of the ten most expensive paintings in the world are by Pollock. His Number 17A sold for £153.2 million in 2015 and Number 5 went for £107.3 million in 2006. The MoMA in New York bought his painting entitled The She Wolf  in 1944, for which they paid something to the tune of $650. This was the first of his paintings to enter the museum’s collection.

Jackson Pollock, The She Wolf, 1943.

…an “action painter”

Action painting is a technique coined by art critics to describe the unconventional process employed by Abstract Expressionists such as Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko. Not only was Pollock somewhat of a poster-child for this trend but he also invented the “drip technique.” His work was best carried out when the canvas was placed on the floor. His process resembles performance art, it’s more like a dance. By working around the painting’s edges and eventually standing on it, he can physically enter the same realm as his art.

Pollock’s choice to work with a horizontally-positioned canvas gave him the ability to see it from unique angles, not simply facing it as if on an easel. Using towels, hardened paint brushes, and sticks, he would fling, splatter, drip, and sprinkle paint across the canvas. Backhandedly nicknamed “Jack the Dripper” by Life magazine, the image of splattered paint instantly became synonymous with his work. At the beginning of his career, he received mixed reviews among critics as his work was so innovative and groundbreaking for the time. Pollock’s finished products were rugged, textured, messy, dirty and above all, utterly harmonious.

…a man with a habit

Even those outside of Pollock’s circle knew he had a drinking problem. During his peak years of fame, his habit grew worse. It was said that when he was spotted drinking at his local bar, young artists would try to brush up against him for good luck. Others would buy him drinks to see what sort of mischief he would get up to. From 1948-1950 he was completely sober but the pressure of having to maintain a consistent artistic output drove him to start drinking again.

In the summer of 1956, Pollock was driving his Oldsmobile and had a single-car accident. He and another female passenger died on the spot while the third passenger survived. She, the third passenger, later confirmed that Pollock had been driving under the influence. At the age of 44, he left the art world in an all too sudden manner. Four months later, the MoMA held a retrospective exhibition to honour his life’s work. To now call his art “sought after” would be an understatement. His paintings are prized possessions amongst collectors and can be found in over 32 museums worldwide. As for his signature style, it has been established as the turning point in Modern Art.

Did you know?

Jackson Pollock never left the United States. Though his work was shown in Europe during his lifetime, he didn’t venture outside the country’s borders. Perhaps he had planned to though; in July 1955 he was issued a passport just one year before his death.

What he said

Abstract painting is abstract. It confronts you. There was a reviewer a while back who wrote that my pictures didn’t have any beginning or any end. He didn’t mean it as a compliment, but it was. 

Jackson Pollock

His greatest works

Jackson Pollock, Number 11 (Blue Poles), 1952
Jackson Pollock, The Deep, 1953
Jackson Pollock, Number 1 (Lavender Mist), 1950
Jackson Pollock, Number 1 (Lavender Mist), 1950. Detail of drip-work.
Jackson Pollock, Full Fathom Five, 1947.

Pollock-inspired work on KAZoART – Caroline Vis

Caroline Vis‘ work is a true homage to Jackson Pollock’s drip technique. Vibrant, electrifying, and full of movement, her canvas displays all the touches of an Abstract Expressionist.

Caroline Vis. Jump. Acrylic on canvas.