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3.5/5 (2 évaluations)
415 pages
4 heures
Sep 15, 2015


Born in 1912, in a small town in Wyoming, Jackson Pollock embodied the American dream as the country found itself confronted with the realities of a modern era replacing the fading nineteenth century. Pollock left home in search of fame and fortune in New York City. Thanks to the Federal Art Project he quickly won acclaim, and after the Second World War became the biggest art celebrity in America. For De Kooning, Pollock was the “icebreaker”. For Max Ernst and Masson, Pollock was a fellow member of the European Surrealist movement. And for Motherwell, Pollock was a legitimate candidate for the status of the Master of the American School. During the many upheavals in his life in Nez York in the 1950s and 60s, Pollock lost his bearings - success had simply come too fast and too easily. It was during this period that he turned to alcohol and disintegrated his marriage to Lee Krasner. His life ended like that of 50s film icon James Dean behind the wheel of his Oldsmobile, after a night of drinking.
Sep 15, 2015

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Pollock - Donald Wigal


Each of the four sections of this book refers to a span of at least ten years. Each subsection, usually covering one year, opens by noting historical events relative at least indirectly to Pollock, or offers some significant backdrop to his life. Events named within that year are not necessarily presented here in strict chronological order. This book should not be relied on for trying to create a strict chronology of details.

Although several interviews and over twenty biographies of Pollock were referred to while researching this work, when referring to ‘Pollock’s biographers’ without specific names, the reference is to the extensive work of Naifeh & Smith. Likewise, ‘de Kooning’s biographers’ always refer to Stevens & Swan. ‘Peggy Guggenheim’s biographer’ always refers to Mary V. Dearborn.

Untitled (Self-portrait), 1931-1935.

Oil on gesso on canvas, mounted on fibreboard, 18.4 x 13.3 cm,

The Pollock-Krasner Foundation, New York.


Fifty years ago the artist Jackson Pollock died, but he lives on in his biographies and especially in his work. However, much of his genius was expressed by how he veiled the visible while he unveiled the invisible.

A survey of the main events of Pollock’s life might lift some of the veils from his troubled soul and his amazing work, as well as explain somewhat his turbulent times. However, this overview offers no definitive explanation for either Pollock’s behaviour or his genius. It is intended to offer an opportunity to stand before the man and his oeuvre and be perplexed by the negatives, in awe of the positives, and aware of the ambiguities.

However, it may be that by veiling himself and his art as he so uniquely did, Pollock paradoxically revealed much of his interior life, thereby making it possible to see and better understand therein something of his spiritual journey – if not also something of the universal human journey.

Many of the events of Pollock’s life and much of his radically new art proved to be mystical yet profane, ugly yet awesome. At times the artist, like his art, appears to be innocent, graceful and sensitive. At the same time his life and art might seem to be crude, macho and abrasive. The biographer Andrea Gabor observes him to be brilliant and naïve, gentle and aggressive, vulnerable and destructive. She observes, Few artists… seemed to personify the masculine excesses of the era more completely than Jackson Pollock who came to represent an archetype of unbridled artistic vitality. (427)

The cycles of Pollock’s life and art at times overlap, as they are sometimes seen as a child-man, angel-beast, and creator-destroyer. Many observers of his work are kept at a distance by what is ugly and yet pulled into what is beautiful in the realities of the artist’s rugged presence and his brilliant achievements. At the same time his private, self-destructive compulsions and isolation ironically drove him to his highly public end fifty years ago.

Several interesting sub-themes in Pollock’s life are not developed here, including his relationship with his brothers’ families, his love of dogs, and his fascination with old cars, and speeding. Rather, one purpose of this concise overview of Pollock’s life and this selection of reproductions of some of his works is to help put his works into an historical context.

However, what Pollock said of his The She-Wolf is surely true of his works in general:

Any attempt on my part to say something about it, to attempt any explanation of the inexplicable, could only destroy it.

Yet, some viewers probably need help in reaching that point where art is experienced simply as art, ideally with some knowledge of it as well.

Some fans of Pollock’s art in particular might prefer to know nothing of the artist’s turbulent life. The following biographical sketch is presented especially for those for whom such knowledge enhances viewing. There are also art lovers who find scientific analysis of art helpful, while other viewers do not. For the former, consideration could be given to Richard Taylor, the professor of physics at the University of Oregon. His crucial and amazing studies are of fractal expressionism and the so-called chaotic processes in the work of Pollock (107).


For many readers the reproductions, no matter how elegant, are at best like postcards reminding them of the art itself, for which there is admittedly no perfect substitute. It was suggested the first two plates be represented in the actual size of the artwork, because those works are small.

However, it should be pointed out that plates are often not in proportion to the actual size of the art works; small and large works might appear to be about equal in size on these printed pages. In one Pollock biography, for example, a reproduction of Picasso’s Guernica is one-third the height of Pollock’s Birth, reproduced on the facing page. However, the actual height of the Picasso work is three times the height of Pollock’s Birth.

The chronology of main events presented here generally follows the order presented in dozens of published biographies, albeit other facts and especially the order in which Pollock’s works were actually completed might differ. Historical chronology here is often sacrificed for thematic development.

Titles of Paintings

Asked about the numbered titles of Pollock paintings, Lee Krasner said Pollock’s focus was to have people appreciate the pure painting rather than to be distracted by the titles. In the August 1950 New Yorker interview Pollock explained, I decided to stop adding to the confusion… caused by word titles. However, subsequent works were sometimes numbered, sometimes given word titles, sometimes both. The same work might be in different exhibitions under different titles. The alphabetical listing at the end of this work is primarily of the titles as in each exhibition, rather than to the paintings, although some consolidation has been attempted.

For complete data see the four-volume Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Drawings and Other Works, edited by Francis V. O’Connor and Eugene V. Thaw, and published by Yale University Press (1978), with a supplement published by the Pollock-Krasner Foundation in 1995.

Often the words in the titles of Pollock works have little, if anything, to do with the painting. For example, see the commentary below in the section on 1943 about the painting Moby Dick. Gallery owner Betty Parsons added the letter A to some titles, indicating they were probably exhibited but not sold in 1948.

However, they may also not have been painted in the year indicated in the title. Subsequent titles would include numbers, words, and combinations thereof, some with and some without dates included in the title. Moreover, neither numbers nor dates imply a chronological order. The titles are listed in chronological order by the years the paintings were done, if known, or the year named in the title.

Included in titles presented here are the two sets in series, Sounds in the Grass and Accabonac Creek. Over fifty Pollock works are untitled, but some of those have a year in their title, while a year has been assigned to others.


Unlike formal biographies, this one occasionally refers to fictional or poetic works which allude to Pollock’s real life.

However, it should be acknowledged that these fictional accounts are less reliable than authoritative biographies and at times they are admittedly outrageous. However, the most fanciful, such as the poem Jackson Pollock by Frank O’Hara, or the Bill Rabinovitch movie PollockSquared (2005), can get to truths rarely touched on by facts alone.

Such fiction might, however, propose certain helpful links between known facts. This book attempts to distinguish known facts from the fictions with each reference, while acknowledging that sometimes fiction can be more insightful than facts alone. For the many actual biographical references consulted, a bibliography is presented as the first group of footnotes.

The floor of Jackson Pollock’s studio, The Spring, East Hampton, Long Island.1998.

The She-Wolf, 1943.

Oil, gouache and plaster on canvas, 106.4 x 170.2 cm,

The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Birth, 1938-1941.

Oil on canvas, 116.4 x 55.1 cm, Tate Gallery, London.

Untitled (Scent), c.1953-1955.

Oil and varnish on canvas, 99 x 146 cm,

Los Angeles, CA, Collection David Geffen.

Historical Context

Some of the statements made by Pollock’s contemporaries throughout this review of his life and work do not seem extraordinary or even noteworthy today, but it should be acknowledged that they were first made years before the legacy of Pollock was well established. Some statements were even prophetic in their envisioning of the artist’s success at a time when only supportive relatives and a small circle of friends knew him. Some of his contemporaries not only saw the potential of the artist, but many risked their reputations by supporting him. It was especially true of his artist brothers, as well as Thomas Hart Benton, Lee Krasner, Howard Putzel, Peggy Guggenheim, Clement Greenberg and James Johnson Sweeney. The following pages offer a brief profile of each of these influential people who generally supported Pollock.

This overview, like previous biographies, movies, plays, and commentaries on Pollock’s work and art probably also falls into the pattern political commentator David Walsh sees in the script of the Ed Harris movie Jackson Pollock. Walsh notes, (The movie) assembles a number of biographical details, without ever making profound sense of them. (297) However, that movie, like this and other biographies, can leave most of the judgmental exercises up to the readers and viewers.

Most Pollock observers predictably try to find the personal psychological causes for his tortured life. For example, this overview includes the characteristics of alcoholism, and also refers to the findings of psychiatrists and presents the results of studies such as that by pioneering Pollock researcher Francis V. O’Connor. Walsh commented, A desperate need for approval usually forces one into doing that which is recognizable. He also noted Pollock’s need for approval …bordered on the psychopathic.

However, Walsh stresses Pollock’s problem and, more generally, that of Abstract Expressionism and post-war American painting, was in great part due to the dramatic and difficult political environment of the mid-twentieth century. He indicates specifically the effects of the growth of Stalinism in the Soviet Union and the Communist parties around the world, the nature of Trotsky’s opposition to Stalinism and the tragic fate of the Socialist revolution, as well as the conservative trend of the nature of post-war American society (296).


Brief profiles of key figures in Pollock’s life can help paint a background against which the life of the artist might be seen in some historical context. Thumbnail sketches of those key people named above are offered throughout this book, along with notes on Willem de Kooning, Matta, Ruth Kligman, and Frank O’Hara.


Pollock’s styles overlapped between cycles. Like the early works of many creative minds (in Pollock’s case, his work before c.1947), they are praised at the time of their creation. Critics then typically downgrade them mainly because subsequent works are even greater. Similarly, works after a peak period (for Pollock after c.1950) are seen as of less value. However, a convincing case can be made to show even the less successful work in Pollock’s oeuvre would have earned him a permanent place in the history of art.

Pepe Karmel observes, What appeared to observers of the 1940s and 1950s as a relatively seamless evolution (of Pollock as an artist) was now broken into three distinct phases: the early work, the ‘classic’ drip paintings, and the late work. The term ‘drip’ is only used here when quoting others, as it was not a term preferred by Pollock or Krasner. While respecting Karmel’s three cycles, this book considers Pollock’s life in four sections:

The Myth of the Artist Cowboy

Struggling During the Early Years: Making Energy Visible

Brilliant Peak Years: Art as Self-Discovery

The Genius of His Gesture: Involving Art and Others in His Self-Destruction

Reflection on the Big Dipper, 1947.

Oil on canvas, 111 x 92 cm,

Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.

The Myth of the Artist Cowboy


The year Jackson Pollock was born was the year Democrat Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) became the U.S. president. However, the policies of the next Democratic president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945), would most directly influence Pollock and the art world.

Coincidentally, catastrophic maritime disasters fell in both the year of Pollock’s birth and the year of his death. The former tragedy was the sinking of the S.S. Titanic in 1912 during her maiden voyage to New York City; the latter was the sinking of the Andrea Doria in 1956.

The major news story of the year 1912 was undoubtedly the sinking of the S.S. Titanic during her maiden voyage. In other news, Arizona and New Mexico became states that year. However, the events of 1912 which would influence Pollock most directly included the publishing of C.G. Jung’s The Theory of Psychoanalysis, and the popularity of works by Picasso, such as that year’s The Violin.


On 28 January, 1912, Paul Jackson Pollock was born on Watkins Ranch in Cody, Wyoming. The town is in the northwest area of the state, about fifty miles East of Yellowstone National Park. The state is widely known as ‘the cowboy state’ and was part of the legendary Wild West. When Jackson’s parents moved there, the town had about 500 residents (334).

Pollock’s earliest experiences were in the atmosphere of myths and romanticising of the Old West. The town of Jackson’s birth was founded only six years before the Pollock family moved there by Colonel William ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody (1846-1917). He was, and probably still is, the state’s most famous historical figure. Dozens of places in the area bear his name. He was an internationally-known buffalo hunter and showman, a promoter – and even creator – of some of the most legendary images of the ‘Wild West’ culture of the United States. Cody needlessly slaughtered 6,570 buffalo. It was a time when sensitivity to animal rights and macro-views of ecology were generally not yet cultivated.

At the time of Jackson’s birth, Buffalo Bill was nearing the end of his life. In a unique way Pollock would carry on the spirit of some of Cody’s most exciting pioneering, rebellious and wild images, as well as myths about legendary American cowboys. Although Pollock spent only his first few months as an infant in Cody, he didn’t correct people who presumed he had lived in that truly Western town until he arrived in New York City. The Pollock-like character in Updike’s Pollock-inspired novel Seek my Face (2002) was, …always telling people he had been a cowboy and it was a lie but his body looked it. (429)

Willem de Kooning’s biographers state, Pollock’s self-destruction had a kind of grandeur that many in the art world respected. Pollock seemed a purely American figure, an authentic visionary, cowboy, and maverick. (189)


The Updike title alludes to the verse in Psalm 27: You speak in my heart and say, ‘Seek my face.’ Your face, Lord, will I seek. The psalmist and novelist, as well as biographers, want to unveil the image of their subject, yet they know, ultimately, the image will remain a mystery. However, Updike also veils his subject, Jackson Pollock, but doing so only thinly. For example, some names in Updike’s novel are more obvious allusions, such as Onna de Genoog representing Willem de Kooning, or Hackmann for Hofmann. Seamus O’Rourke is nearly an anagram for Mark Rothko. Updike’s main character is named Zack McCoy in the novel. The novel’s name for the artist is an allusion to both the artist’s familiar first name (Jack) and his father’s actual last name (McCoy).

The Real McCoy

Apparently only Pollock’s family called him Jack (146), and he signed at least one letter ‘Jacks’ (384). In 1930, Pollock dropped his first name, Paul. Years later his wife, Lee Krasner, would refer to him, even in his presence, as Pollock.

McCoy was the birth name of Jackson’s father, LeRoy. After the death of LeRoy’s parents, in 1897, he was taken care of by a family named Pollock. Ten days before his twenty-first birthday LeRoy was adopted by the Pollocks. He then took on the name Pollock. Later he asked a lawyer to have his name changed back to McCoy, but doing so would have been too expensive (383).

Composition with Pouring II, 1943.

Oil on canvas, 64.7 x 56.2 cm,

Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.

Male and Female, 1942.

Oil on canvas, 184.4 x 124.5 cm,

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia.

Stranger Than Fiction

While biographies don’t often include fiction in their resources, there are novels, plays, and movies about Pollock which do, with the usual caveats, help weave over certain holes in the veils that partly cover the subject.

A reviewer for Time Magazine felt the Updike novel was lovely and wise (63). In fact, Updike’s very imaginative portrait of Pollock not only reveals some details more clearly than most

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