Jackson Pollock Biography

The Jackson Pollock biography has been used to explain everything from alcoholism, creative genius, the price of fame and the influence of psychoanalysis on American art. Jackson Pollock continues to provoke his viewers with his life of contradictions, and Jackson Pollock paintings continue to confound and amaze viewers all around the globe.

Birth and Education

Jackson Pollock was born in 1912 in Wyoming, the youngest of five boys. The family moved several times during Pollock's youth, from Wyoming, to California, to Arizona and back to California. In 1928, Pollock enrolled in the Manual Arts High School, and received drawing education from the wonderfully named Frederick John de St. Vrain Schwankovsky. This teacher would provide a structural education, but would also introduce Pollock to the concept of the metaphysical and occult spirituality. Themes of ghosts and spirituality would echo in many Jackson Pollock paintings, ideas he likely began to develop at this early age.

In 1930, Pollock went to New York to follow his brother, Paul, who was enrolled at The Art Students League. This would prove a monumental decision that would help shape Jackson Pollock artwork, as here Pollock would study with the famous muralist Thomas Hart Benton. He would study life drawing, mural painting and composition for 2 ½ years with Benton, but the elder artist would continue to support Pollock's artwork long after their student/teacher relationship had ended.


In 1935, Jackson Pollock art was given a larger stage. The artist was hired as part of the WPA project, allowing Pollock to have a job and feed himself during the Great Depression. He would work for the WPA from 1935 to 1942. Going West, painted by Jackson Pollock in 1934-1935, shows the influence Benton had on the young painter's work. A wagon train takes up the center of the image, in a slightly realistic style, while a blue sky swirls above. The cinematic quality of the image, along with the use of color and contrast, owes a deep debt to Benton.

Jackson Pollock struggled with alcoholism for much of his adult life. In 1937, Pollock entered psychiatric treatment for his alcoholism. In 1938, he was hospitalized for a mental collapse. It became clear to Pollock that he needed additional help, so he turned to Jungian analysis. This therapy focuses on the wants and needs of the unconscious, and encourages patients to use their dreams to help them uncover unconscious thoughts. While this therapy would not cure Pollock's alcoholism, it would prove fertile ground for paintings by Jackson Pollock. Paintings during this time, including Male and Female and Guardians of the Secret contain abstract symbols, frank sexuality and abstract meaning. This turn in Jackson Pollock painting, from realistic murals to abstract expressions, was well received and Pollock had his first solo exhibition at Peggy Guggenheim's Art of the Century Gallery in New York in 1943. The exhibition went well, and Guggenheim extended his contract until 1947.


The extended contract with Guggenheim would mean Pollock could focus on his painting, rather than on looking for work. Guggenheim also loaned Pollock and his wife-to-be, Lee Krasner, money they needed to buy a home in upstate New York. Pollock and Krasner would marry in 1945.

The home they bought would provide Pollock with a safe place to paint and innovate. And innovate he did. In 1947, Pollock created his first "action painting." He placed large canvases on the ground and painted by flinging, pouring, dripping and smearing paint on with his fingertips, brushes, feet, wires and sticks. Pollock paintings generated in this way are extremely large, with a latticework of paint covering nearly every square inch in overlapping loops and swirls. These paintings were extremely physical, as the dripping paint represented the arching movements Pollack made to generate them. These Jackson Pollock paintings were extremely innovative and strange. Western painters didn't typically create art in this way. In 1947, Jackson Pollock artwork made it onto the cover of "Life" magazine, and Pollock was filmed while in the midst of generating artwork. Widespread fame followed, and Pollock had one-man shows of his pieces nearly every year.

While Pollock was famous and admired, he was not wealthy during his life. He didn't sell any painting for more than $10,000, and was often quite poor. Jackson Pollock paintings were more popular in Europe. Ironically, Jackson Pollock paintings are quite valuable today, when the proceeds can no longer benefit the artist.

Downward Spiral

In 1951, at the height of his action painting popularity, Pollock abruptly abandoned the form. He began painting with black enamel on unprimed canvases before returning to his abstract roots with paintings such as Portrait and a Dream, which contains humanoid figures in an abstract background, and The Deep, which is generated, in part, with a drip technique. In 1956, the last year of Pollock's life, he didn't paint at all. Pollock's marriage to Lee Krasner was deteriorating, and the artist's alcoholism had taken hold. Jackson Pollock was killed in an automobile accident in 1956, while he was driving drunk.


The house in New York where Pollock and Krasner lived is still open to the public as a tourist attraction. Visitors can see the studio where the artist painted, as well as visit the painter's grave, as he is buried on site.

Jackson Pollock paintings such as Lavender Mist are still being studied and understood. This nearly 10-foot wide Pollock painting contains no lavender color at all, but is covered instead in loops and swirls of contrasting colors blending to lavender in the eye. Some critics suggest that these works are so layered and compact that they can be used to explain fractals.

Jackson Pollock Number 5 is reputed to be one of the most expensive paintings in the world. In 2006, a Mexican art dealer was reported to have purchased Jackson Pollock's Number 5 in an auction for $140 million, although the buyer claims to have made no such purchase. It is unclear where the large, poured painting is today and who owns it.