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Today marks Jackson Pollock’s birthday

Today marks what would have been the 97th birthday of one of the foremost exponents of Abstract Expressionism, Jackson Pollock.

Born Paul Jackson Pollock in Cody, Wyoming in 1912, he was the youngest of five sons.

In 1930 he followed his brother Charles to New York City where they both studied under Thomas Hart Benton at the Art Students League of New York.

Pollock’s dripping technique was inspired by Indian sandpainting demonstrations he observed in the 1940s, Mexican muralists and surrealist automatism.

His most famous works were done during the “drip period” between 1947 and 1950. He attained national popularity after appearing in a four-page spread in Life Magazine in 1949. The article asked, “Is he the greatest living painter in the United States?”

Pollock abandoned the practice of naming his painting in favor of assigning them numbers. He said he wanted observers to “look passively and try to receive what the painting has to offer and not bring a subject matter or preconceived idea of what they are to be looking for.”

His wife Lee Krasner said Pollock “used to give his pictures conventional titles…but now he simply numbers them. Numbers are neutral. They make people look at a picture for what it is: pure painting.

At the peak of his fame, Pollock abruptly abandoned the drip style.

After 1951 Pollock’s work was darker in color, including a collection in black on unprimed canvases, followed by a return to color the reintroduction of figurative elements in his work. During this period Pollock had moved to a more commercial gallery and a great demand from collectors for new paintings put a tremendous amount of pressure on the artist.

In response to the pressure and personal frustration, he slipped deeper into an already prevalent alcohol problem.

Pollock did not paint at all in 1955. After struggling with alcoholism his whole life, his career was cut short when he died in an alcohol-related, single car crash less that a mile from his home in Springs, New York on August 11, 1956 at the age of 44.

Pollock denied that his work was accidental and said he usually had an idea of how he wanted a particular piece to appear. He combined controllable and uncontrollable forces by mixing the movement of his body, which he could control, with the flow of the paint, the force of gravity and the way the canvas absorbed the paint.

He would move around a canvas, almost dancing, as he flung, dripped, and spattered paint.

Studies have explored the nature of Pollock’s technique and have determined that some of his works display the properties of mathematical fractals and that his work may be an early attempt to create a representation of mathematical chaos, more that10 years before Chaos Theory itself was proposed.

Whether Pollock was conscious of it or not will never be known.�


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