Paul Jackson Pollock // (January 28, 1912 – August 11, 1956) was an American painter and a major figure in the abstract expressionist movement.
He was widely noticed for his technique of pouring or splashing liquid household paint onto a horizontal surface (“drip technique”), enabling him to view and paint his canvases from all angles. It was also called All-over painting and “action painting”, since he covered the entire canvas and used the force of his whole body to paint, often in a frenetic dancing style. This extreme form of abstraction divided the critics: some praised the immediacy of the creation, while others derided the random effects. In 2016, Pollock’s painting titled Number 17A was reported to have fetched US$200 million in a private purchase.
A reclusive and volatile personality, Pollock struggled with alcoholism for most of his life. In 1945, he married the artist Lee Krasner, who became an important influence on his career and on his legacy. Pollock died at the age of 44 in an alcohol-related single-car accident when he was driving. In December 1956, four months after his death, Pollock was given a memorial retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City. A larger, more comprehensive exhibition of his work was held there in 1967. In 1998 and 1999, his work was honored with large-scale retrospective exhibitions at MoMA and at The Tate in London.
Pollock’s most famous paintings were made during the “drip period” between 1947 and 1950. He became famous following an August 8, 1949 four-page spread in Life magazine that asked, “Is he the greatest living painter in the United States?” Thanks to the mediation of Alfonso Ossorio, a close friend of Pollock and the art historian Michel Tapié, the young gallery owner Paul Facchetti, from March 7, 1952, managed to realize the first exhibition of Pollock’s works from 1948 to 1951 in his Studio Paul Facchetti in Paris and in Europe. At the peak of his fame, Pollock abruptly abandoned the drip style.
Pollock’s work after 1951 was darker in color, including a collection painted in black on unprimed canvases. These paintings have been referred to as his “Black pourings” and when he exhibited them at the Betty Parsons Gallery in New York, none of them sold. Parsons later sold one to a friend at half the price. These works show Pollock attempting to find a balance between abstraction and depictions of the figure.
He later returned to using color and continued with figurative elements. During this period, Pollock had moved to the Sidney Janis Gallery, a more commercial gallery; the demand for his work from collectors was great. In response to this pressure, along with personal frustration, his alcoholism deepened.