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Artists Jackson Pollock
Jackson Pollock Photo

Jackson Pollock

American Painter

Movements and Styles: Abstract Expressionism, Surrealism

Born: January 28, 1912 - Cody, Wyoming

Died: August 11, 1956 - East Hampton, New York

Jackson Pollock Timeline


"Today painters do not have to go to a subject matter outside of themselves. Most modern painters work from a different source. They work from within."
Jackson Pollock
"The strangeness will wear off and I think we will discover the deeper meanings in modern art."
Jackson Pollock
"My paintings do not have a center, but depend on the same amount of interest throughout."
Jackson Pollock
"When I'm painting, I'm not aware of what I'm doing. It's only after a get acquainted period that I see what I've been about. I've no fears about making changes for the painting has a life of its own."
Jackson Pollock
"Every good painter paints what he is."
Jackson Pollock
"The painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through."
Jackson Pollock

"It doesn't make much difference how the paint is put on as long as something has been said. Technique is just a means of arriving at a statement."

Jackson Pollock Signature


In its edition of August 8th, 1949, Life magazine ran a feature article about Jackson Pollock that bore this question in the headline: "Is he the greatest living painter in the United States?" Could a painter who flung paint at canvases with a stick, who poured and hurled it to create roiling vortexes of color and line, possibly be considered "great"? New York's critics certainly thought so, and Pollock's pre-eminence among the Abstract Expressionists has endured, cemented by the legend of his alcoholism and his early death. The famous 'drip paintings' that he began to produce in the late 1940s represent one of the most original bodies of work of the century. At times they could suggest the life-force in nature itself, at others they could evoke man's entrapment - in the body, in the anxious mind, and in the newly frightening modern world.

Key Ideas

Pollock's tough and unsettled early life growing up in the American West shaped him into the bullish character he would become. Later, a series of influences came together to guide Pollock to his mature style: years spent painting realist murals in the 1930s showed him the power of painting on a large scale; Surrealism suggested ways to describe the unconscious; and Cubism guided his understanding of picture space.
In 1939, Pollock began visiting a Jungian analyst to treat his alcoholism, and his analyst encouraged him to create drawings. These would later feed his paintings, and they shaped Pollock's understanding of his pictures not only as outpourings of his own mind, but expressions that might stand for the terror of all modern humanity living in the shadow of nuclear war.
Pollock's greatness lies in developing one of the most radical abstract styles in the history of modern art, detaching line from color, redefining the categories of drawing and painting, and finding new means to describe pictorial space.


Jackson Pollock Photo


Paul Jackson Pollock was born in Cody, Wyoming, in 1912, the fifth and youngest son of a family of Irish-Scottish extraction. Pollock was only ten months old when the family moved to San Diego. His father's work as a surveyor would force them to move repeatedly around the Southwest in subsequent years, until, when Pollock was aged nine, his father abandoned the family, only to return when Jackson himself had left home. The West of Pollock's childhood provided a tough upbringing, but he grew to love nature - animals and the expanse of the land - and while living in Phoenix in 1923 he discovered Native American art.

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Jackson Pollock Biography Continues

Important Art by Jackson Pollock

The below artworks are the most important by Jackson Pollock - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Going West (1934-35)
Artwork Images

Going West (1934-35)

Artwork description & Analysis: Going West exemplifies many aspects of Pollock's early interests. During the 1930s, he was strongly influenced by the American Regionalism of his mentor Thomas Hart Benton, yet Going West is characterized by a dark, almost mystical quality similar to another American visionary painter Pollock admired, Albert Pinkham Ryder. The swirling forms which structure the image evoke the emotional intensity of El Greco and Van Gogh. This image of a pioneer journeying West connects Pollock's emerging style to his own origins. While the scene evokes a sort of gothic mystery, it has been suggested that it comes from a family photo of a bridge in Cody, Wyoming, where Pollock was born.

Oil on gesso on composition board - National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C.

Guardians of the Secret (1943)
Artwork Images

Guardians of the Secret (1943)

Artwork description & Analysis: Guardians of the Secret, often interpreted as a metaphor for the emergence of unconscious impulses into conscious thought, represents a synthesis of Pollock's sources. The imagery draws on African, Native American, as well as prehistoric art, yet there are also touches of Miró and Picasso. The abstract male and female 'guardians' have been interpreted in myriad ways: as Northwest Indian totems; Egyptian gods; even as conflations of playing cards and chess pieces wearing African masks. They flank the sides, while along the bottom is a dog reminiscent of Anubis, the jackal-god of the ancient Egyptian underworld. An African mask, a scarab-like embryo, and a rooster, all line up like relics across the top. The rooster is a symbol of fertility, but it may also recall the time Pollock lost the tip of his finger as a child when he put his hand in the way of an axe meant to kill a chicken. In the center of the composition is a tablet, covered in an hieroglyphic inscription reminiscent of ancient tombs. When the canvas is turned upside down, stick figures in various poses emerge.

Oil on canvas - San Francisco Museum of Art

Mural (1943)
Artwork Images

Mural (1943)

Artwork description & Analysis: Mural is an early tour de force in Pollock's career, a transition between his easel paintings and his signature drip canvases. This 'all over' painting technique was assimilated from a variety of sources: Picasso, Benton and Siqueiros, as well as Native American sand painting. Measuring nearly 8 x 20 ft, this was Pollock's first large-scale work, and was commissioned for Peggy Guggenheim's apartment. Although influenced by his earlier work in this format, Pollock struggled to control the composition. He incorporated decorative patterns in thinly brushed paint to achieve an intimate pattern within the grand scale. An apocryphal story exists that it was painted in one day and one night, though this is impossible given the quantity of layers in the picture. Gifted by Guggenheim to the University of Iowa Museum of Art in 1951, it was recently rescued from floodwaters in Des Moines.

Oil on canvas - University of Iowa Museum of Art, Des Moines

More Jackson Pollock Artwork and Analysis:

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Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Jackson Pollock
Interactive chart with Jackson Pollock's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart


Pablo PicassoPablo Picasso
Paul CézannePaul Cézanne
Thomas Hart BentonThomas Hart Benton
Jose Clemente OrozcoJose Clemente Orozco
Joan MiróJoan Miró

Personal Contacts

Clement GreenbergClement Greenberg
Robert MotherwellRobert Motherwell
Mark RothkoMark Rothko
Barnett NewmanBarnett Newman
Willem de KooningWillem de Kooning


Native American ArtNative American Art
American RegionalismAmerican Regionalism

Influences on Artist
Jackson Pollock
Jackson Pollock
Years Worked: 1930 - 1954
Influenced by Artist


Lee KrasnerLee Krasner
Helen FrankenthalerHelen Frankenthaler
Robert MorrisRobert Morris
Kenneth NolandKenneth Noland
Franz KlineFranz Kline

Personal Contacts

Philip GustonPhilip Guston
Peggy GuggenheimPeggy Guggenheim
Ad ReinhardtAd Reinhardt


Color Field PaintingColor Field Painting

Useful Resources on Jackson Pollock

Special Features







artist features

Defining Modern Art

Take a look at the big picture of modern art, and Pollock's role in it.

The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.


Jackson Pollock: An American Saga Recomended resource

By Steven Naifeh

Jackson Pollock: A Biography

By Deborah Solomon

Jackson Pollock: Energy Made Visible

By B. H. Friedman

No Limits, Just Edges: Jackson Pollock

By David Anfam, Susan Davidson, Margaret Ellis

More Interesting Books about Jackson Pollock
Jackson Pollock Drawing Application Recomended resource

Lets you draw a drip painting on your computer monitor
Click on this link and then on big image on next page to start application

Jackson Pollock Web Feature

Capturing the Artist in Action

By Ann Landi
Art News
November 2007

An American Legend in Paris

By Robert Hughes
February 1, 1982

Live to Paint/Paint to Live

By Lee Siegel
The Atlantic Monthly
February 17, 1999

Pollock Paints a Picture Recomended resource

By Robert Goodnough
May 1951

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Ashley Remer

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Ashley Remer
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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