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Jackson Pollock: Art Style, Paintings & Death

Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Jackson Pollock is one of the most noteworthy artists of the past 100 years; learn more about Pollock, his unique style and work, and his untimely death.

Jackson Pollock: A Revolutionary, Evolutionary Artist

In 1949, a Life magazine headline asked if a man known as 'Jack the Dripper' could really be the best painter in America. Jackson Pollock's style of painting has been a source of discussion ever since, as a textbook demonstration of an artist's evolution from Surrealism's odd shapes to incredibly novel techniques and, ultimately, to his untimely death.

Artistic Style

Jackson Pollock, despite studying art under Thomas Hart Benton, one of the great masters of truly accessible art, chose instead to adopt his former teacher's independence rather than his specific style. Art historians term Pollock's unique style as Abstract Expressionist, especially as gestural abstraction. In this, Pollock chose not to explore the subject of the art, but instead how the paint was applied on the canvas. While earlier painters had no doubt used varying weights and lengths of stroke lengths to emphasis certain parts of a given composition, Pollock instead allowed these techniques to tell the story he wanted to portray. In this, he admittedly borrowed heavily from Native American sand paintings that he had seen in his youth.

Pollock challenged not only the rules of composition, but also the ways with which a painting was to be even created. Eschewing the sole use of traditional artist's oil paint, he worked with paints one would be more likely to find in a home improvement store, stating that the differing textures of these gave his creations greater dimension. Beyond the paint, Pollock also used new tools in his application, settling not only for an artist's set of brushes, but also utilizing sticks, cups, and even turkey basters to splatter, squirt, and pour his paint exactly the way he saw fit. In time, this style would be called drip painting.

Perhaps Pollock's greatest change was the way he interacted with the canvas. While other artists painted with use of an easel, Pollock would place a randomly-sized piece of canvas on the floor of his studio, allowing him to not only dramatically increase the size of his work, but also the ability to approach the composition from any angle. Pollock was especially proud of this fact, claiming in numerous interviews that this made him feel that he was a part of the painting, rather than simply working at a distance from it.

Detail of above work in the style of Jackson Pollock
Pollock Inspired Work

Paintings

Despite his time with an artist like Benton, Pollock embraced Surrealism early in his career, as evidenced by his works Male and Female and The Moon Woman, both of which showed a heavy use of Surrealist shapes. By the time of his Mural for the University of Iowa Museum of Art, it was clear that he had mastered many Surrealist techniques, but was already moving away from conveying a message in shapes, and instead how the paint was applied on the canvas. In fact, in all three paintings he literally applied paint by pouring it on the canvas, a technique considered edgy by many.

By 1947, Pollock found what would be his most enduring period. Notably, he stopped assigning names to his paintings, choosing instead to simply assign a number to each. In doing so, Pollock removed the idea of a preconceived notion of the work, forcing the viewer to come to their own conclusions about each piece. Additionally, in works like One and Five, Pollock attained his greatest fame. Pollock was quick to reject the idea that his paintings were random, insisting that he did not stop working on a canvas until it expressed his inspiration.

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