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How Jackson Pollock Worked


Jackson Pollock's Success and Decline
Pollock sits with a dog at his Springs studio in New York in 1953.
Pollock sits with a dog at his Springs studio in New York in 1953.
Tony Vaccaro/Getty Images

One of Jackson Pollock's fellow artists in the WPA was a woman named Lee Krasner. Like Pollock, her work focused on abstract expressionism, and each was increasingly influenced by the other. In 1945, the two artists married and moved to Springs, N.Y., on Long Island. The move was financed by Pollock's patron and dealer, Peggy Guggenheim, at whose gallery his work would be introduced to the New York artistic elite. It was at the studio in Springs where Pollock began to cement what would become his signature style, known as "action painting." Pollock would roll out a canvas on his studio floor, tacking it down rather than stretching it on a wood frame, and then attack it with paint. Rather than using a soft paint brush, as most artists of the day preferred, Pollock used sticks, stiff brushes and even turkey basters to achieve the desired effect. Thus, the sticks and brushes were merely vehicles for the paint, and rarely (if ever) came into direct contact with the canvas. Though the resulting paintings looked random and accidental, Pollock insisted that he began each work with an idea of how it should look at the end.

The years between 1947 and 1950 became known as Jackson Pollock's "Drip Period." His work during the Drip Period caused a sensation in not only the art world, but also in the wider sphere of pop culture; Life magazine even published an article about his work in August 1949 [source: Pollock Krasner House]. The press nicknamed him "Jack the Dripper." But the window of his success was brief.

Pollock's troubles with alcohol and depression began in his teenage years. For brief stretches of time, he remained sober, but inevitably Pollock slid back down into the battle with alcoholism. His sudden popularity and the accompanying demand for more paintings led him to suddenly abandon his action paintings in 1951. He returned to the more figurative works of his early career, and used darker colors more frequently. His relationship with his wife, Lee, became strained. On Aug. 11, 1956, Pollock was driving less than a mile from his home, with his girlfriend Ruth Kligman and a woman named Edith Metzger in the car. Pollock was drunk and crashed the vehicle. No other cars were involved. Both Pollock and Metzger were killed in the crash; Pollock was just 44 years old.