In a previous post we mentioned a new biography about Lee Krasner, partner, painter-in-arms and wife to Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollock. It would be a balanced statement to point out that for much of her life Krasner lived in Pollock’s shadow. But that wasn’t always the case: before Krasner met Pollock she was an up and coming star herself. Born in New York to Jewish-Russian immigrants, Lena Krassner attended The Cooper Union and the National Academy of Design. She then worked for the WPA Federal Art Project from 1935 to 1943.
It was during her time at the WPA that her own abstract expressionist roots started to take place. In 1937 she studied under Hans Hofmann who at the time taught Cubism. One famous quote, reflecting the gender bias in art at the time, has Hoffman saying: “This is so good you would not know it was painted by a woman” when referring to a Krasner painting. In fact, Krasner’s first exhibition of abstract expressionist work predates Pollock: in 1940 she started showing her works with the American Abstract Artists, a group of American painters. In 1945 she married Pollock, and from then on her own output decreased dramatically, while Pollock’s star climbed higher and higher.
There is no doubt Krasner’s artistic eye, feedback, emotional, physical, psychological and spiritual help was critical in helping Jackson Pollock reach the peak of his powers. In fact, many Pollock paintings draw a distinctive inspiration from some of Krasner’s earlier work. The fact that Pollock consumed so much of her energy can be seen in the revival of her career after Pollock passed away in a car crash in 1955. One example of this is the 1961 oil on canvas work, Gothic Landscape. The strong black vertical lines have been interpreted as trees, despite its abstract nature, with the strong emphasis on black and seemingly violent brushstrokes a reflection of her grief since Pollock passed away. A feeling of confusion and sadness is inevitable – precisely the emotions Krasner no doubt felt with the loss of her most important life partner.
This dark theme is continued in other canvas artwork from 1961, including Moontide and Assault on the Solar Plexus, two names that certainly question the inevitability of death and pain. But to present Krasner as a grief-stricken painter is to present only half a painting: many of her earlier works are bright, containing an almost palpable sense of energy. This includes Untitled (Still Life) from 1938 and the pictured Untitled cubist-abstract hybrid painting completed in 1949. While we don’t have any Krasner reproduction oil paintings on offer, you can pay tribute to the life of the woman by having a look at the Pollock gallery and seeing what entranced her and indeed, the rest of the world.