Jackson Pollock (1912 – 1956) was an American painter who is most famous for his style of painting known as drip painting. However, at the peak of his artistic career, he abandoned this style and withdrew himself both socially and artistically. Pollock’s art has been a subject of much scrutiny with some hailing it as the best paintings of its day while others calling it a joke in bad taste. Despite such diverse opinions, Pollock was undoubtedly one of the most influential artists of his era and several of his paintings have ranked among the most expensive paintings ever sold. Moreover, analysis of his work has shown that his drip paintings closely resemble intricate repeating patterns found in nature. Pollock remains among the best known artists in the world and he is a subject of a Pulitzer Prize winning book and an Oscar winning movie. Know more about Jackson Pollock through these 10 interesting facts.
#1 Pollock was known as Jack the Dripper due to his unique style of painting
Drip painting is a form of abstract art in which paint is dripped or poured onto the canvas, rather than being carefully applied. Jackson Pollock is the most famous practitioner of drip painting to the extent that he was dubbed “Jack the Dripper” by TIME magazine. Pollock’s technique of pouring and dripping paint popularized the term action painting, a method in which the physical act of painting itself is an essential aspect of the finished work. While using the technique, Pollock used the force of his whole body to paint, often in a frenetic dancing style. While in the initial stages, Pollock was only intrigued by drip painting, he went on to use it almost exclusively in his later works. He created large and energetic abstract paintings by using many unconventional tools such as sticks, hardened brushes and even syringes! Along with these, he used house or industrial paints to achieve the desired results.
#2 Fame made him abandon his famous painting style
On August 8, 1949, Life magazine published an article which asked the question, “Is he (Pollock) the greatest living painter in the United States?” This turned Jackson Pollock into an overnight sensation. His style of painting was over-analyzed warranting equal admiration and disdain. This new found attention did not resonate well with the mental health of Pollock. Hence, his reputation was only short-lived as the pressure forced him to withdraw himself both socially and artistically. Instead of continuing with his famous style of Drip Painting, he chose to shy away from it and turned himself to much darker works, known as the Black Pourings. These were not well received by his fans and collectors ultimately lost interest in his works. In fact, not a single one of these paintings could be sold at the time.
#3 Contrary to popular belief, he managed to earn well in his later career
It is generally believed that Pollock struggled financially throughout his life. It is true that at one point he was so poor that he had to work as a janitor and steal food to survive. However, with time his financial situation improved. In the 1950s, in the last phase of his life, Pollock was earning around $10,000, which was five times the average annual wage of $2100. Some of his paintings even fetched about $6000, which was a lot to pay for a painting during this period. Smart art collectors had realized the potential future value of his paintings, leaving Pollock in a comfortable financial position. Moreover, after the death of Pollock at the age of 44 in 1956, his widow Lee Krasner benefited immensely from the rising prices of his paintings.
#4 Jackson Pollock had a lifelong issue with alcohol abuse
Jackson Pollock began drinking heavily as early as the age of 15 and he suffered from alcohol abuse through much of his life. Although Pollock was known to have a calm personality, the influence of alcohol brought out his alter ego turning him into an angry and violent person. Contrary to popular beliefs, Pollock never used to get drunk in order to paint. Instead of stimulating his creativity, alcohol interfered with it. In fact, he was not at all able to work when he was intoxicated. Realizing this weakness, he moved with his wife Krasner from New York City to Eastern Long Island in late 1945. Here, he was able to quit alcohol for 2 years and during this period, he produced twice as many paintings. Unfortunately, Jackson was again pulled toward alcohol and it became the cause of his death when his car crashed as he was driving while being drunk.
#5 His artworks have been called a joke in bad taste
Due to the abstract nature of his works, the critical assessment of Jackson Pollock has always been divided. In fact, the reviews of Pollock’s paintings have usually been extreme. Art critic Robert Coates once reviewed his works to be “Mere unorganized explosions of random energy, and therefore meaningless.” Art critic Clement Greenberg was one of the first critics to praise the works of Pollock. He considered them to be the best paintings of the time. French abstract painter Jean Helion was another admirer of Pollock. He was taken aback by Pollock’s prowess when he first saw one of his paintings, dubbing its effect as “it filled out space going on and on because it did not have a start or end to it”. On the other hand, a 1959 headline of Reynold News described his works as “This is not art – it’s a joke in bad taste.”
#6 His emphasis on the process of creating an artwork proved highly influential
The style of painting popularized by Pollock, where he stained onto raw canvases, was well received and followed in the artistic world and later adopted by the Color Field painters, Helen Frankenthaler and Morris Louis. Also, the American painter and print-maker Frank Stella adopted “all-over composition” to be a hallmark of his works in the 1960s. Apart from painters, Pollock’s works also inspired various sculptures through the ages, including Richard Serra and Eva Hesse. The major influence and artistic following that Pollock has attracted can be attributed to the emphasis he laid on the process of creation, rather than the look of his work. In 2004, his work One: Number 31 was ranked as the 8th most influential piece of modern art. About 500 artists, curators, critics and dealers participated in the poll.
#7 His works rank among the most expensive paintings ever sold
Through the decades, multiple paintings by Pollock have been sold at astonishing prices. This started in 1973 when his work Number 11, 1952 (Blue Poles) was purchased by the Australian government for $2 million, which at the time was the highest price ever paid for a modern painting. In November 2006, one of Pollock’s paintings titled Number 5, 1948 became the most expensive painting in the world at that time, bagging a sum of $140 million from an undisclosed buyer in a private auction. However, the record for the highest ever price ever paid for a painting by Jackson Pollock came in February 2016 when Kenneth C. Griffin purchased Number 17A, a 1948 masterpiece, for $200 million. Currently, adjusting for inflation, Number 17A ranks at number 5 and Number 5, 1948 ranks at number 11 in the list of the most expensive paintings ever sold.
#8 An original Pollock might have been purchased for $5
Teri Horton was a long-haul truck driver from California before she took up hunting for bargain treasures. In 1992, Horton bought a painting for $5 as a gift to help cheer up a friend. However, since the painting didn’t fit her friend’s requirement, she decided to sell it at a yard sale. As luck would have it, a local art teacher suggested to her that the $5 painting might be the work of Jackson Pollock. Not knowing who Pollock was, she began researching. She then hired a forensic expert who concluded that the painting was indeed an original Pollock. However, art connoisseurs aren’t thoroughly convinced of its authenticity and hence there is still debate over it. Teri Horton has declined offers of $2 million and $9 million for the painting. She asserts that she’s not “greedy” and just wants a “fair price”. Her story has been a subject of a documentary titled “Who the $&% Is Jackson Pollock?”
#9 Fractal analysis of his paintings prove that they resemble natural patterns
Fractals are patterns that repeat at increasingly fine scales. They may seem haphazard at first glance. However, they are composed of a single geometric pattern repeated thousands of times at different magnifications. Fractals are prevalent in natural scenery including in clouds, rivers and mountains. Physicist Richard Taylor, while researching the works of Pollock, found that the drips and splotches on his canvases seemed to create repeating patterns at different size scales, just like fractals. In 1999, Taylor conducted computer analysis of Pollock’s paintings to conclude that the fractal dimensions of Pollock’s earlier drip paintings closely resemble those found in nature. For example, a 1948 painting by Pollock titled Number 14 has a fractal dimension of 1.45, similar to that of many coastlines. Ironically, Pollock’s once said, “I am Nature”. Following the analysis of Taylor, over 10 scientific groups have performed fractal analysis on over 50 works by Pollock. Moreover, the term Fractal Expressionism has been coined to describe the painting style of Pollock.
#10 Pollock is a subject of a Pulitzer Prize winning book and an Oscar winning movie
In 1989, Pollock’s biography Jackson Pollock: An American Saga was published. Written by American authors Gregory White Smith and Steven Naifeh, the book was regarded as “well-researched” and it won the 1991 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography. Based on this biography, famous American actor and director Ed Harris directed a film titled Pollock. Ed Harris himself starred as Jackson Pollock while Marcia Gay Harden played the role of his wife Lee Krasner. The film grossed a total of more than $10 million. It was a major critical success. Ed Harris received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his portrayal of Pollock while Marcia Gay Harden won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for portraying Lee Krasner.