Pollock, a portrait

Print edition : July 03, 1999

WYOMING-BORN Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) enrolled at the Art Students League, New York, in 1930. His early work was influenced by the methods and subject-matter of his teacher, the regionalist painter Thomas Hart Benton, and consisted mostly of small landscapes and figurative scenes, such as "Going West".

Finding employment on a Federal Art Project as an easel painter provided him economic security during the Great Depression, and an opportunity to develop his art. Psychiatric treatment for alcoholism followed by a period of hospitalisation for nervous breakdown in 1937-38 changed the tone and tempo of his output. Pollock's work became semi-abstract and showed the assimilation of motifs from the Spanish artists, Pablo Picasso and Joan Miro. Other influences of this phase were Jungian symbolism, surrealism, and the Mexican muralist Jose Clemente Orozco, who, humiliated by his own government, had sought refuge in the United States for a few years and painted murals in educational institutions. In the late 1930s and 1940s, the arrival on American shores of a host of surrealists and other European avant-garde artists, who were fleeing Nazi-dominated Europe, stimulated the native New York city painters, particularly the nascent Abstract Expressionists.

By 1947, Pollock had developed an abstract style, popularly known as action painting. He poured, dripped, splashed and sprayed commercial and metallic paints on large, raw canvases, placed on the floor, to transform complex and tangled skeins of paint into suggestive and exciting linear patterns.

In the 1950s, action painting became a dominant style in the U.S. and made New York the most advanced centre of modern art. Shortly before his early death in a car crash, Pollock abandoned the use of colour and painted only in black and white.

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