Who Was Jackson Pollock?

When Maude Gutman in Bakersfield Mist buys a painting at a thrift store for $3, she is convinced it is the “find of the century”: a lost masterpiece by Jackson Pollock.  But who was Jackson Pollock?

“When I am in a 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 fears about 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.” –  Jackson Pollock

Jackson Pollock was one of the most important  painters of the 20th century and a major figure in the abstract expressionist  movement. During his lifetime, Pollock enjoyed considerable fame and notoriety. He was regarded as a mostly reclusive artist. He had a volatile personality, and struggled with alcoholism for most of his life.

Pollock died at the age of 44 in an alcohol-related car accident.

Today, his paintings are worth millions of dollars and on exhibit in major museums around the world. In 2000, Pollock was the subject of an Academy Award-winning film Pollock directed by and starring Ed Harris.

"Number 8" by Jackson Pollock

Pollock’s most famous paintings were made during the “drip period” between 1947 and 1950. He rocketed to popular status following an August 8, 1949 four-page spread in Life magazine that asked, “Is he the greatest living painter in the United States?” Those less enthralled or confused by Pollock’s splatter paintings dubbed the artist “Jack the dripper.”

At the peak of his fame, Pollock abruptly abandoned the drip style. Pollock’s work after 1951 was darker in color, including a collection painted in black on unprimed canvases. This was followed by a return to color,  and he reintroduced figurative elements. During this period Pollock had moved to a more commercial gallery and there was great demand from collectors for new paintings. In response to the pressure from collectors for his paintings, along with deep personal frustration, his alcoholism deepened.

After Pollock’s death at age 44, his widow, Lee Krasner, managed his estate and ensured that Pollock’s reputation remained strong despite changing art-world trends. They are buried together in New York. The public can visit the The Pollock House & Studio on Long Island.

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