SynopsisLee Krasner pioneered the all-over painting technique utilized by the likes of and Cy Twombly. Krasner worked at a time when women artists were excluded from most circles and dealt with her art work often being eclipsed by that of her husband, Jackson Pollock. Her "Little Image" series, however, earned her critical renown and an undeniable place in the art historical canon.
Key Ideas / Information
ChildhoodLee Krasner was the sixth of seven children born to her Russian-Jewish immigrant parents on October 27, 1908. A native of Brooklyn, New York, Krasner was born Lena Krassner but would change her name several times throughout her life, eventually settling on Lee Krasner by the late 1940s.
Krasner decided to become an artist at thirteen years of age, leading to her application and acceptance at Washington Irving High School, the only New York public high school at the time to allow women in their art program.
Early TrainingAs an adult, Krasner remained in New York City, continuing her schooling first at the Women's Art School of Cooper Union and then at the Art Students League. It was during her years at the National Academy of Design, where she studied from 1928-1932, that Krasner earned her reputation as having a prickly, independent streak, often at odds with her traditionalist professors. Krasner's work at that time ranged from realistic self-portraiture to attempts at surrealism, which resembled the work of Giorgio de Chirico.
During the years following, Krasner made her way as a waitress and model while also working on her teaching certification, until, in 1932, she obtained full time work as an artist through the Federal Art Project. The FAP was the visual arts branch of the New Deal's WPA program. Created by Franklin D. Roosevelt, this program sponsored many artists during and after the Great Depression. Krasner's first employment with the WPA found her assisting in the creation of large-scale public murals, and she was delighted to finally be working full time as an artist.
Unsatisfied with the conservative approach to art that she learned at the Academy, Krasner fell into more bohemian art circles, adopting Trotskyist politics and deciding to study with Abstract-Expressionist painter, . Hofmann exposed her to the work of Cubist painter and sculptor, Pablo Picasso, as well as Modernist, Henri Matisse. Under the tutelage of Hofmann, Krasner began to work in an "all-over" style, covering the surfaces of her paintings with abstract, repetitive designs informed by floral motifs. It was this "all-over" technique that later inspired her husband, Jackson Pollock, to give up cubism completely and begin his famous drip paintings.
Mature PeriodIn the late 1930s, she began to associate with the American Abstract Artists, a group formed in New York City in 1936 to promote and help the public understand abstract art. It was during this period that she met Pollock, moving in with him in 1941. They married in 1945, and the duties of promoting and managing the practical aspects of Pollock's career fell to his new wife. Krasner generously embraced her new responsibilities, even if it meant her own career took a back seat to her husband's.
Krasner did not, however, stop making her own artwork during her eleven-year marriage to Pollock. When the couple moved to a farm in Springs, Long Island in the late 1940s, Krasner began her "Little Image" series, a body of work defined by the small size of the paintings and their repetitive, linear designs which often took on the look of hieroglyphics. Krasner possessed a lifelong admiration of Matisse's work, and in the early 1950's began to experiment with collage, a technique that Matisse used late in his career. It was after a particularly frustrating day in the studio that Krasner tore all of her paintings to pieces, which led to her reassemble the shredded works weeks later into constructions reminiscent of cubism. Krasner's 1955 exhibition of these works was positively received, leading well-known critic, , to declare it one of the most important shows of the decade.
After her husband's death in a fatal car accident the following year, Krasner began a large-scale Abstract Expressionist series called "Earth Green." She received negative feedback for these works, which combined nature-inspired forms with a rhythmic, splattered technique, because of the believe that the work was derivative of Pollock's. In 1962, Krasner suffered an aneurism, which sidelined her artistic development for several years afterward due to ill health. In the years that followed, Krasner continued to work with her nature-forms in variety of ways combining them with large areas of more solid color on her canvases (a choice inspired by Color Field painting and Minimalism), and in the late 1960's and '70s her work experienced a revival due to the women's movement.
Late Period and DeathThroughout her career, Krasner's style underwent many shifts. Her experiments with color, scale, and technique were finally recognized in her first retrospective exhibition in October of 1983 at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts in Texas. Despite ill health, Krasner was able to make it to the exhibition, which traveled on to San Francisco, Phoenix, and Norfolk, Virginia. Unfortunately, Krasner died in June of 1984 from internal bleeding due to diverticulitis, never able to see her retrospective make its final stop at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
LegacyThough never reaching the level of fame achieved by her husband, Krasner remains one of the few examples of women artists who was able to keep pace with her male contemporaries in the Abstract Expressionist movement. After her death, as a result of Krasner's generosity, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation was established with the goal of assisting the development of fine artists. Since its creation in 1985, the foundation has awarded over 46 million dollars in grants to working artists around the world. Now affiliated with Stoneybrook University, the Pollock-Krasner House in Springs, Long Island has been kept as it was when the artistic couple lived there, and currently remains open to the public.
Below are Lee Krasner's major influences, and the people and ideas that she influenced in turn.
Willem De Kooning
Years Worked: 1930 - 1981
Quotes"I like a canvas to breathe and be alive. Be alive is the point. And, as the limitations are something called pigment and canvas, let's see if I can do it."
"All my work keeps going like a pendulum.. it seems to swing back to something I was involved with earlier, or it moves between horizontality and verticality, circularlity, or a composite of them. For me, I suppose, that change is the only constant."
"I have never been able to understand the artist whose image never changes."
|Jackson Pollock was the most well-known Abstract Expressionist and the key example of Action Painting. His work ranges from Jungian scenes of primitive rites to the purely abstract "drip paintings" of his later career.
ArtStory: Jackson Pollock Page
|A tendency among New York painters of the late 1940s and 1950s, all of whom were committed to an expressive art of profound emotion and universal themes. The movement embraces the gestural abstraction of Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, and the color field painting of Mark Rothko and others. It blended elements of Surrealism and abstract art in an effort to create a new style fitted to the post-war mood of anxiety and trauma.
ArtStory: Abstract Expressionism Page
|German-born American painter, art teacher and theorist. Hofmann matured as an artist in 1904-14 in Paris, where he met many of the greatest artists of that time. After he emigrated to America in the early 1930s he enjoyed a prominent career as a teacher, powerfully influencing many Abstract Expressionists with his understanding of European modernism.
ArtStory: Hans Hofmann Page
|Clement Greenberg was one the leading American art critics during the 20th century. Best known as the ideological counterpart to Harold Rosenberg, Greenberg was a formalist who coined the terms "American-type painting" and 'Post-painterly abstraction.' He was a staunch champion of pure abstraction, including the work of Pollock, Still and Hofmann.
ArtStory: Clement Greenberg Page
|Picasso dominated European painting in the first half of the last century, and remains perhaps the century's most important, prolifically inventive and versatile artist. Alongside Georges Braque he pioneered Cubism. He also made significant contributions to Surrealist painting, and media such as collage, welded sculpture, and ceramics.
ArtStory: Pablo Picasso Page
|Henri Matisse was a French painter and sculptor who helped forge modern art. From his early Fauvist works to his late cut-outs, he emphasized expansive fields of color, the expressive potential of gesture, and the sensuality inherent in art-making.
ArtStory: Henri Matisse Page
|Piet Mondrian, a founding member of the De Stijl movement, was a Dutch modern artist who used grids, perpendicular lines, and the three primary colors in what he deemed "Neoplastic" painting.
ArtStory: Piet Mondrian Page
|Willem de Kooning, a Dutch immigrant to New York, was one of the foremost Abstract Expressionist painters. His abstract compositions drew on Surrealist and figurative traditions, and typified the expressionistic 'gestural' style of the New York School.
ArtStory: Willem De Kooning Page
|Barbara Rose is an American art historian. Her 1965 article "ABC Art" was an important early study of Minimalism.
|Harold Rosenberg was a critic, art historian, and curator who published important works on modern art and culture. He was a leading exponent of Abstract Expressionism, and coined the term "Action Painting."
ArtStory: Harold Rosenberg Page
|Realism is an approach to art that stresses the naturalistic representation of things, the look of objects and figures in ordinary life. It emerged as a distinct movement in the mid-19th century, in opposition to the idealistic, sometimes mythical subjects that were then popular, but it can be traced back to 16th century Dutch art and forward into 20th century styles such as social realism.
|Perhaps the most influential avant-garde movement of the century, Surrealism was founded in Paris in 1924 by a small group of writers and artists who sought to channel the unconscious as a means to unlock the power of the imagination. Much influenced by Freud, they believed that the conscious mind repressed the power of the imagination. Influenced also by Marx, they hoped that the psyche had the power to reveal the contradictions in the everyday world and spur on revolution.
ArtStory: Surrealism Page
|Cubism was developed by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque between 1907-1911, and it continued to be highly influential long after its decline. This classic phase has two stages: 'Analytic', in which forms seem to be 'analyzed' and fragmented; and 'Synthetic', in which pre-existing materials such as newspaper and wood veneer are collaged to the surface of the canvas.
ArtStory: Cubism Page
|Jasper Johns is an American artist who rose to prominence in the late 1950s for his multi-media constructions, dubbed by critics as Neo-Dada. Johns' work, including his world-famous targets and American flags series, were important predecessors to Pop art.
ArtStory: Jasper Johns Page
|Minimalism emerged as a movement in New York in the 1960s, its leading figures creating objects which blurred the boundaries between painting and sculpture, and were characterized by unitary, geometric forms and industrial materials. Emphasizing cool anonymity over the hot expressivism of the previous generation of painters, the Minimalists attempted to avoid metaphorical associations, symbolism, and suggestions of spiritual transcendence.
ArtStory: Minimalism Page