Jackson Pollock's mythic reputation rests largely on the artistic breakthrough of his large action paintings made between 1947 and 1951, as well as on his dramatic life and death.
The fifth and youngest son in a struggling farming family, Pollock was born in Cody, Wyoming, and grew up with his four brothers in Arizona and California. Although family resources were limited, his determined mother fostered artistic potential in each of her children (three became artists). Pollock began his art training in Los Angeles at the Manual Arts High School, from which he was ultimately expelled because of his rebellious nature. In 1930, at the age of eighteen, he joined his older brother Charles in New York at the Art Students League. Both brothers studied with Thomas Hart Benton, the leading American Scene painter and, by that time, a staunch opponent of European modernism. Pollock absorbed Benton's technique of focusing his compositions around twisting countershifts. Later this method would lead Pollock to new artistic directions that would redefine the course of modern art.
Pollock's complex imagery derived from diverse sources including Navajo sand painting, Asian calligraphy, and personal revelations stemming from his psychotherapy sessions. From the 1930s to the early 1940s, while working for the Federal Arts Project and assisting the revolutionary Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros, Pollock's style evolved from a dark, turbulent form of regionalism to a more freely rendered abstract expressionism. By 1943 he had his first solo exhibition at Peggy Guggenheim's Art of This Century gallery, an instrumental showcase for artists working in the vanguard. A few years later he began to receive regular payment for his artwork, married artist Lee Krasner, and settled on Long Island. During the next decade Pollock developed his monumentally influential "poured" paintings by dripping and flinging intricate layers of paint all over his canvases. Despite his fame and success, Pollock was plagued by psychological instability and alcoholism. He died in a violent single car crash near his home in 1956.
[This is an excerpt from the interactive companion to the videodisc American Art from the National Gallery of Art.]