Paul Jackson Pollock was born on Jan. 28, 1912, in the small town of Cody, Wyo. At the time of his birth, Pollock's parents, Stella and LeRoy, were sheep farmers. After the family's attempts at farming proved unsuccessful, LeRoy Pollock took a job as a government surveyor, which led the family to places like Arizona and California. Pollock's travels in the American West left an indelible mark on the artist and his work. Native American sand painting arguably had the greatest effect on his practical process; like sand painting, Pollock's most famous works were done on a flat surface, where he could approach them from all sides. The emphasis on process, and not just the final product, became Pollock's signature style. Native American motifs also found their way into some of Pollock's earlier works. "Birth," for example, uses imagery from traditional Inuit art [source: Tate Collection].
At the age of 18, Pollock moved to New York City to study at the Art Students League. There he worked with a number of well-known artists, including Thomas Hart Benton and Mexican artists Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros. Pollock was drawn to their large-scale murals, a preference later reflected in his oversized works. Benton was particularly influential during Pollock's early time in New York, encouraging the young artist to study the Old Masters. Throughout the 1930s, Pollock observed, assisted and even posed for the muralists, letting their influence guide his own work. Pollock was invited to participate in his first exhibition, held at the Brooklyn Museum, in 1932. Five years later, he joined the Works Progress Administration's Federal Art Program [source: The Art Story]. Part of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) programs were created to provide work for people during the Great Depression. The Federal Art Program (FAP) was specifically geared toward commissioning murals, canvases, posters and sculptures that were patriotic and figurative, rather than abstract. Pollock's own work reflects that trend, though by the time he left the FAP in 1943, his art was heading in a decidedly abstract direction.