Wild, Wacky, Weird Artist Series – # 6 – Jackson Pollock

floor of Jackson Pollock's studio

Jackson Pollock was born in Cody, Wyoming

He was born in 1912 and died in 1956, piling his convertible into a tree while driving under the influence of alcohol . He lived only 44 years, but set the art world on its ear. Why? How?

Jackson Pollock’s studio on Long Island. Never could an artist’s floor better represent his work!

Pollock earned the infamous nickname ‘Jack the Dripper’ and explained his unusual style, “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.”

Okay, that is pretty weird, right? Not really. As a matter of fact our research shows that Pollock was a follower. Now, there is nothing wrong with that…we all stand on the shoulders of giants. Pollock’s giant was a woman who actually took up art at the age of 45. He attended a show of Women in Art, in 1945. In that show were the following works by Janet Sobel, which Pollock admitted, “influenced him.”

And this one:

Janet Sobel (1893–1968) was a Ukrainian-American Abstract Expressionist whose career started mid-life, at age 45. Even with an artistic career as brief as hers, Sobel is the first artist to use the drip painting technique. So, Pollock was not the first to do drip paintings.

Here are Pollock’s last paintings prior to starting drip paintings:

Sounds in the Grass series in 1945 – an exhibit held by his sponsor, Peggy Guggenheim.

Pollock’s largest painting – 8′ x 19′ – was a commission for Peggy.

It was titled “Mural” and was for Peggy Guggenheim’s hall way. Story is that Jackson looked at the blank canvas for 4 nights in his studio. One morning his wife, Lee Krasner, went into Pollock’s studio and Mural was finished…all in one night. This was one of his last in this style before he suddenly erupted into drip painting.


Jackson Pollock Working, shot for Life Magazine, Photograph © Arnold Newman

No. 31 by Jackson Pollock, hanging in MOMA. I stood next to it and nearly cried at its power…shaking like a leaf. It cannot be described, only experienced. In that moment you either “get” Pollock or you never will.

Jackson in Action: The action that made him so famous.

In Paris, on August 12, 1956, Lee Krasner received a phone call informing her that her husband, Jackson Pollock, had died the night before.

pollock played by ed harris
Ed Harris as Jackson Pollock from the movie “Pollock”.

It seems to be all great American legends are surrounded by myth. And most American legends, as they are labeled, die at an early age and leave people to wonder what could have been if only.

As Pollock’s work was gaining promise, he was struggling with his inner demons of alcoholism and depression. His brothers Charles and Sanford encouraged him to seek treatment, including psychoanalysis in 1937. But in 1938, he suffered a setback in the form of a nervous breakdown. While the therapy was not successful in curing his drinking problem or his depression, he did have two years of absolute sobriety in which he created some wonderful pieces of work.

By 1955, he stopped painting altogether, when the alcohol and depression got the better of him. At this time, Krasner had the opportunity to go to Europe for a period of time. Considering the state of their marriage and Pollock’s behavior, Krasner took the opportunity to go to Europe and re-evaluate their marriage. Pollock, on the other hand, remained in New York. He took up with a mistress to keep him company along with his drink and to distract himself from his current situation. The agonies, self-doubt, and chaos he was experiencing were to come to an end very soon.

On August 11, 1956, Jackson Pollock was killed. He was involved in a one-car auto accident. He was driving drunk and had overturned his convertible. He killed himself and an acquaintance, while seriously injuring his other passenger, Ruth Kligman, his mistress and the only survivor.

Ms. Kligman was riding in the front seat of the Oldsmobile 88 convertible that August night near Springs, N.Y., when Pollock, after a day of drinking, ran the car off the road and flipped it, killing Edith Metzger, a young friend of Ms. Kligman’s, and himself.

Ms. Kligman was thrown clear of the car but seriously injured. She later reported, “Edith started screaming, ‘Stop the car, let me out!’ ” Ms. Kligman wrote about that night in “Love Affair: A Memoir of Jackson Pollock,” her 1974 book about their tumultuous relationship, which had started only a few months earlier when she met Pollock at the Cedar Tavern in Greenwich Village. “He put his foot all the way to the floor,” she wrote of the crash. “He was speeding wildly.”

~..~

So, was Pollock weird, wacky, or wild? One of his famous quotes was, “Every good artist paints what he is.” Had he not been famous, he would have, with his total lack of social skills and his tendency to get into bar fights, been better known as a ‘real drip.’

Hardly weird as an artist, because a definitive influence on Pollock was the work of the Ukrainian American artist Janet Sobel (1894–1968), who was born Jennie Lechovsky. She began painting at age 45, and her work was featured in an exhibit in New York, held by the wealthy patron of the arts, Peggy Guggenheim.

Peggy had included Sobel’s work in her The Art of This Century Gallery in 1945. In 1946, Jackson Pollock and art critic Clement Greenberg attended the exhibit and saw Sobel’s work. Later, Greenberg, a champion of Jackson’s (reportedly directly responsible for Pollock’s wide exposure) noted that Sobel was “a direct influence on Jackson Pollock’s drip painting technique.” In his essay “American-Type Painting,” Greenberg noted those works were the first of all-over painting he had seen, and said, “Pollock admitted that these pictures had made an impression on him”. So, Pollock, perhaps, is not as weird as has been thought, having been a direct adopter of Janet Sobel’s style.

Was he wacky? We do not call people dealing with depression or mental illness “wacky.”

Dali was wacky. Pollock was suffering mightily, for years, with mental illness.

Was Pollock wild? Yes, behaviorally, but not as an artist. He knew what he was doing, he knew how to work the scene. He mimicked Janet Sobel’s style, took it to the next level, and produced his best works during two years of sobriety.

He was only wild like so many alcoholics when in their cups.

So, although his works are now worth 10s if not 100s of millions of dollars, Jackson Pollock was neither wild, weird or wacky…except in our minds.

That is our conclusion at this point in time.

 

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