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Born in 1912, in a small town in Wyoming, Jackson Pollock embodied the American dream as the country found itself confronted with the realities of a modern era replacing the fading nineteenth century. Pollock left home in search of fame and fortune in New York City. Thanks to the Federal Art Project he quickly won acclaim, and after the Second World War became the biggest art celebrity in America. For De Kooning, Pollock was the “icebreaker”. For Max Ernst and Masson, Pollock was a fellow member of the European Surrealist movement. And for Motherwell, Pollock was a legitimate candidate for the status of the Master of the American School. During the many upheavals in his life in Nez York in the 1950s and 60s, Pollock lost his bearings - success had simply come too fast and too easily. It was during this period that he turned to alcohol and disintegrated his marriage to Lee Krasner. His life ended like that of 50s film icon James Dean behind the wheel of his Oldsmobile, after a night of drinking.



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Text: Donald Wigal

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© Parkstone Press USA, New York.
© Confidential Concepts, worldwide, USA.
© Pollock Estate / Artists Rights Society, New York, USA.
© Daros Collection, Switzerland / Artists Rights Society, New York, USA, p. 196
© Barnett Newman / Artists Rights Society, New York, USA, p. 132
© Mark Rothko / Artists Rights Society, New York, USA, p. 235
© Ruth Kligman, p. 246
© Willem de Kooning Estate / Artists Right Society, New York, USA p. 235
© Adolph Gottlieg Estate / Artists Rights Society, New York / ADAGP, Paris, p. 220
© Robert Motherwell Estate / Artists Rights Society, New York / ADAGP, Paris, p. 135
© Rudolph Burckard / Artists Rights Society, New York. ADAGP, Paris, pp. 242-244

All rights reserved

No part of this publication may be reproduced or adapted without the permission of the copyright
holder, throughout the world. Unless otherwise specified, copyrights on the works reproduced lies
with the respective photographers. Despite intensive research, it has not always been possible to
establish copyright ownership.
Where this is the case we would appreciate notification.

ISBN: 978-1-78310-748-3
Donald Wigal

Jackson Pollock
Veiling the Image

A c k n o w l e d g e m e n t

The author acknowledges Ruth Kligman; Athos Zacharius; the A r t C h r o n i c l e s o f t h e S m i t h s o n i a n;
Jerry Saltz, V i l l a g e V o i c e art critic; photographer Robin Holland; artists James Cullina of A r t S l e u t h ,
Bob Stanley, Kathy Segall, and Bill Rabinovitch; authors Carmel Reingold, James Robert Parish,
George Sullivan, Susan Waggoner, and William Kuhns; agents Stephany Evans, Elaina Zucker,
Robert Markel; Barlow Hartman and Mercedes Ruehl; James Yohe of A m e r i n g e r / Y o h e / F i n e A r t;
Tina Dickey, editor of the H a n s H o f m a n n C a t a l o g u e R a i s o n n é; Maggie Seildon of J a s o n M c C o y
G a l l e r y; Cheryl Orlick of the A l b r i g h t - K n o x A r t G a l l e r y; Bradley D. Cook of I n d i a n a U n i v e r s i t y
A r c h i v e s; Jennifer Ickes of the N e w O r l e a n s M u s e u m o f A r t; Isabelle Dervaux, Curator of Modern
and Contemporary Art, N a t i o n a l A c a d e m y M u s e u m; Verity Hawson, Lillian Kiesler, Cornelia
Sontag, Bérangère Mardelé, and Eliane de Sérésin of P a r k s t o n e P r e s s; for research support, Bro.
Frank O’Donnell, Edie LaGuardia Hansen, Dr. Mark Cooper and Gene Carney; Vera Haldy for
German translation; Herbert Verbesey and Gerard Sullivan for the Latin dedication; Antonio Bautista,
Michael Morris; Cheryl Murray of E n t e r t a i n m e n t L a w D i g e s t; also, A l t e r n a t i v e R e s e a r c h for
online research; Richart Taylor and his Jackson Pollock center at the University of Oregon.
Thanks to Catherine O’Reilly for her dedication, generosity, meticulous and expert editorial input on
this and a dozen books over the past 25 years.
I dedicate this work to these colleagues with whom I share a common bond. They generously made
my work this past year possible: Tom Brenn, Paul Cibrowski, Joe Clark, Richard Csarny, Jim Cullina,
Gene Carney, Jim DeVito, Joe Fagan, Bill Gannon, Brian Griffin, Bob Higdon, John Kane, Mel
Kubander, Joe LaSala, Joe Manzo, Joe Maurer, Charlie Miller, Bob Moriarty, SM, Frank O’Donnell,
SM, Andy Oravets, Frank Poliafico, Bob Schult, Bruce Segall, Rhett Segall, John Spellman, Brian
Trick, Herb Verbesey, Joe Wessling, Ken White, and Jim Wolf. G e s t a s c u m s o c i i s r e s m e m i n i s s e
j u v a t . (It delights me to remember all the things we shared together).
— Donald Wigal
Manhattan, 2005C O N T E N T S

The Myth of the Artist Cowboy
Struggling During the Early Years: Making Energy Visible
Brilliant Peak Years: Art as Self-Discovery
The Genius of His Gesture: Involving Art and Others in His Self-Destruction
Selected Resources
INDEXThe writer has tried to be accurate in referencing. However, there are very likely errors here,
especially in the chronological order of events, and the titles and dates of works. For the first two
years or so after publication, corrections and updates may be available in English from
A b b r e v i a t i o n s
AbEx Abstract Expressionism
AOTC Art of This Century, Manhattan
Benton Thomas Hart Benton
Guggenheim Peggy Guggenheim
Krasner Lee Krasner
MoMA Museum of Modern Art, Manhattan
Pollock Jackson PollockF o r e w o r d

Each of the four sections of this book refers to a span of at least ten years. Each subsection, usually
covering one year, opens by noting historical events relative at least indirectly to Pollock, or offers
some significant backdrop to his life. Events named within that year are not necessarily presented here
in strict chronological order. This book should not be relied on for trying to create a strict chronology
of details.
Although several interviews and over twenty biographies of Pollock were referred to while
researching this work, when referring to ‘Pollock’s biographers’ without specific names, the
reference is to the extensive work of Naifeh & Smith. Likewise, ‘de Kooning’s biographers’ always
refer to Stevens & Swan. ‘Peggy Guggenheim’s biographer’ always refers to Mary V. Dearborn.Untitled (Self-portrait), 1931-1935.
Oil on gesso on canvas, mounted on fibreboard, 18.4 x 13.3 cm,
The Pollock-Krasner Foundation, New York.

“It is just a matter of time and work now for me to have that knowledge a part of me. A good seventy
years more and I’ll make a good artist.” (403)
– Age 20


Fifty years ago the artist Jackson Pollock died, but he lives on in his biographies and especially in his
work. However, much of his genius was expressed by how he veiled the visible while he unveiled the
A survey of the main events of Pollock’s life might lift some of the veils from his troubled soul
and his amazing work, as well as explain somewhat his turbulent times. However, this overview
offers no definitive explanation for either Pollock’s behaviour or his genius. It is intended to offer an
opportunity to stand before the man and his oeuvre and be perplexed by the negatives, in awe of the
positives, and aware of the ambiguities.
However, it may be that by veiling himself and his art as he so uniquely did, Pollock paradoxically
revealed much of his interior life, thereby making it possible to see and better understand therein
something of his spiritual journey – if not also something of the universal human journey.
Many of the events of Pollock’s life and much of his radically new art proved to be mystical yet
profane, ugly yet awesome. At times the artist, like his art, appears to be innocent, graceful and
sensitive. At the same time his life and art might seem to be crude, macho and abrasive. The
biographer Andrea Gabor observes him to be “brilliant and naïve, gentle and aggressive, vulnerable
and destructive.” She observes, “Few artists… seemed to personify the masculine excesses of the era
more completely than Jackson Pollock who came to represent an archetype of unbridled artistic
vitality.” (427)
The cycles of Pollock’s life and art at times overlap, as they are sometimes seen as a child-man,
angel-beast, and creator-destroyer. Many observers of his work are kept at a distance by what is ugly
and yet pulled into what is beautiful in the realities of the artist’s rugged presence and his brilliant
achievements. At the same time his private, self-destructive compulsions and isolation ironically
drove him to his highly public end fifty years ago.
Several interesting sub-themes in Pollock’s life are not developed here, including his relationship
with his brothers’ families, his love of dogs, and his fascination with old cars, and speeding. Rather,
one purpose of this concise overview of Pollock’s life and this selection of reproductions of some of
his works is to help put his works into an historical context.
However, what Pollock said of his The She-Wolf is surely true of his works in general:
“Any attempt on my part to say something about it, to attempt any explanation of the inexplicable,
could only destroy it.”
Yet, some viewers probably need help in reaching that point where art is experienced simply as art,
ideally with some knowledge of it as well.
Some fans of Pollock’s art in particular might prefer to know nothing of the artist’s turbulent life.
The following biographical sketch is presented especially for those for whom such knowledge
enhances viewing. There are also art lovers who find scientific analysis of art helpful, while other
viewers do not. For the former, consideration could be given to Richard Taylor, the professor of
physics at the University of Oregon. His crucial and amazing studies are of fractal expressionism and
the so-called chaotic processes in the work of Pollock (107).
For many readers the reproductions, no matter how elegant, are at best like postcards reminding them
of the art itself, for which there is admittedly no perfect substitute. It was suggested the first twoplates be represented in the actual size of the artwork, because those works are small.
However, it should be pointed out that plates are often not in proportion to the actual size of the
art works; small and large works might appear to be about equal in size on these printed pages. In one
Pollock biography, for example, a reproduction of Picasso’s Guernica is one-third the height of
Pollock’s Birth, reproduced on the facing page. However, the actual height of the Picasso work is
three times the height of Pollock’s Birth.
The chronology of main events presented here generally follows the order presented in dozens of
published biographies, albeit other facts and especially the order in which Pollock’s works were
actually completed might differ. Historical chronology here is often sacrificed for thematic
Titles of Paintings
Asked about the numbered titles of Pollock paintings, Lee Krasner said Pollock’s focus was to have
people appreciate the pure painting rather than to be distracted by the titles. In the August 1950 New
Yorker interview Pollock explained, “I decided to stop adding to the confusion…” caused by word
titles. However, subsequent works were sometimes numbered, sometimes given word titles,
sometimes both. The same work might be in different exhibitions under different titles. The
alphabetical listing at the end of this work is primarily of the titles as in each exhibition, rather than to
the paintings, although some consolidation has been attempted.
For complete data see the four-volume Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Drawings and Other
Works, edited by Francis V. O’Connor and Eugene V. Thaw, and published by Yale University Press
(1978), with a supplement published by the Pollock-Krasner Foundation in 1995.
Often the words in the titles of Pollock works have little, if anything, to do with the painting. For
example, see the commentary below in the section on 1943 about the painting Moby Dick. Gallery
owner Betty Parsons added the letter A to some titles, indicating they were probably exhibited but not
sold in 1948.
However, they may also not have been painted in the year indicated in the title. Subsequent titles
would include numbers, words, and combinations thereof, some with and some without dates
included in the title. Moreover, neither numbers nor dates imply a chronological order. The titles are
listed in chronological order by the years the paintings were done, if known, or the year named in the
Included in titles presented here are the two sets in series, Sounds in the Grass and Accabonac
Creek. Over fifty Pollock works are untitled, but some of those have a year in their title, while a year
has been assigned to others.
Unlike formal biographies, this one occasionally refers to fictional or poetic works which allude to
Pollock’s real life.
However, it should be acknowledged that these fictional accounts are less reliable than
authoritative biographies and at times they are admittedly outrageous. However, the most fanciful,
such as the poem Jackson Pollock by Frank O’Hara, or the Bill Rabinovitch movie PollockSquared
(2005), can get to truths rarely touched on by facts alone.
Such fiction might, however, propose certain helpful links between known facts. This book
attempts to distinguish known facts from the fictions with each reference, while acknowledging that
sometimes fiction can be more insightful than facts alone. For the many actual biographical
references consulted, a bibliography is presented as the first group of footnotes.The floor of Jackson Pollock’s studio, The Spring, East Hampton, Long Island.1998.

“I’m just now getting into painting again and the stuff is really beginning to flow. Grand feeling
when it happens.” (426)
– Age 36T h e S h e - W o l f, 1943.
Oil, gouache and plaster on canvas, 106.4 x 170.2 cm,
The Museum of Modern Art, New York.B i r t h, 1938-1941.
Oil on canvas, 116.4 x 55.1 cm, Tate Gallery, London.U n t i t l e d ( S c e n t ), c.1953-1955.
Oil and varnish on canvas, 99 x 146 cm,
Los Angeles, CA, Collection David Geffen.

Historical Context
Some of the statements made by Pollock’s contemporaries throughout this review of his life and
work do not seem extraordinary or even noteworthy today, but it should be acknowledged that they
were first made years before the legacy of Pollock was well established. Some statements were even
prophetic in their envisioning of the artist’s success at a time when only supportive relatives and a
small circle of friends knew him. Some of his contemporaries not only saw the potential of the artist,
but many risked their reputations by supporting him. It was especially true of his artist brothers, as
well as Thomas Hart Benton, Lee Krasner, Howard Putzel, Peggy Guggenheim, Clement Greenberg
and James Johnson Sweeney. The following pages offer a brief profile of each of these influential
people who generally supported Pollock.
This overview, like previous biographies, movies, plays, and commentaries on Pollock’s work and
art probably also falls into the pattern political commentator David Walsh sees in the script of the Ed
Harris movie J a c k s o n P o l l o c k. Walsh notes, “(The movie) assembles a number of biographical
details, without ever making profound sense of them.” (297) However, that movie, like this and other
biographies, can leave most of the judgmental exercises up to the readers and viewers.
Most Pollock observers predictably try to find the personal psychological causes for his tortured
life. For example, this overview includes the characteristics of alcoholism, and also refers to the
findings of psychiatrists and presents the results of studies such as that by pioneering Pollock
researcher Francis V. O’Connor. Walsh commented, “A desperate need for approval usually forces
one into doing that which is recognizable.” He also noted Pollock’s need for approval “…bordered
on the psychopathic.”
However, Walsh stresses Pollock’s problem and, more generally, that of Abstract Expressionism
and post-war American painting, was in great part due to the dramatic and difficult political
environment of the mid-twentieth century. He indicates specifically the effects of the growth of
Stalinism in the Soviet Union and the Communist parties around the world, the nature of Trotsky’s
opposition to Stalinism and the tragic fate of the Socialist revolution, as well as the conservative
trend of the nature of post-war American society (296).
Brief profiles of key figures in Pollock’s life can help paint a background against which the life of the
artist might be seen in some historical context. Thumbnail sketches of those key people named above
are offered throughout this book, along with notes on Willem de Kooning, Matta, Ruth Kligman, and
Frank O’Hara.
Pollock’s styles overlapped between cycles. Like the early works of many creative minds (in
Pollock’s case, his work before c.1947), they are praised at the time of their creation. Critics then
typically downgrade them mainly because subsequent works are even greater. Similarly, works after a
peak period (for Pollock after c.1950) are seen as of less value. However, a convincing case can be
made to show even the less successful work in Pollock’s oeuvre would have earned him a permanent
place in the history of art.
Pepe Karmel observes, “What appeared to observers of the 1940s and 1950s as a relatively
seamless evolution (of Pollock as an artist) was now broken into three distinct phases: the early work,
the ‘classic’ drip paintings, and the late work.” The term ‘drip’ is only used here when quoting others,
as it was not a term preferred by Pollock or Krasner. While respecting Karmel’s three cycles, this
book considers Pollock’s life in four sections:
The Myth of the Artist Cowboy
Struggling During the Early Years: Making Energy Visible
Brilliant Peak Years: Art as Self-Discovery
The Genius of His Gesture: Involving Art and Others in His Self-DestructionReflection on the Big Dipper, 1947.
Oil on canvas, 111 x 92 cm,
Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.

“Yes, the modern artist is working with space and time, and expressing his feelings rather than
illustrating.” (406)
– Age 38

The Myth of the Artist Cowboy

In 1912, the SS Titanic sank. Picasso was only twenty-two, but his Le Moulin de la Galette
and The Two Sisters of nearly ten years before, as well as his recent Harlequin, were already
well known.
The year Jackson Pollock was born was the year Democrat Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) became
the U.S. president. However, the policies of the next Democratic president, Franklin Delano
Roosevelt (1882-1945), would most directly influence Pollock and the art world.
Coincidentally, catastrophic maritime disasters fell in both the year of Pollock’s birth and the year
of his death. The former tragedy was the sinking of the S.S. Titanic in 1912 during her maiden voyage
to New York City; the latter was the sinking of the Andrea Doria in 1956.
The major news story of the year 1912 was undoubtedly the sinking of the S.S. Titanic during her
maiden voyage. In other news, Arizona and New Mexico became states that year. However, the events
of 1912 which would influence Pollock most directly included the publishing of C.G. Jung’s The
Theory of Psychoanalysis, and the popularity of works by Picasso, such as that year’s The Violin.
On 28 January, 1912, Paul Jackson Pollock was born on Watkins Ranch in Cody, Wyoming. The
town is in the northwest area of the state, about fifty miles East of Yellowstone National Park. The
state is widely known as ‘the cowboy state’ and was part of the legendary Wild West. When Jackson’s
parents moved there, the town had about 500 residents (334).
Pollock’s earliest experiences were in the atmosphere of myths and romanticising of the Old West.
The town of Jackson’s birth was founded only six years before the Pollock family moved there by
Colonel William ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody (1846-1917). He was, and probably still is, the state’s most
famous historical figure. Dozens of places in the area bear his name. He was an
internationallyknown buffalo hunter and showman, a promoter – and even creator – of some of the most legendary
images of the ‘Wild West’ culture of the United States. Cody needlessly slaughtered 6,570 buffalo. It
was a time when sensitivity to animal rights and macro-views of ecology were generally not yet
At the time of Jackson’s birth, Buffalo Bill was nearing the end of his life. In a unique way
Pollock would carry on the spirit of some of Cody’s most exciting pioneering, rebellious and wild
images, as well as myths about legendary American cowboys. Although Pollock spent only his first
few months as an infant in Cody, he didn’t correct people who presumed he had lived in that truly
Western town until he arrived in New York City. The Pollock-like character in Updike’s
Pollockinspired novel Seek my Face (2002) was, “…always telling people he had been a cowboy and it was a
lie but his body looked it.” (429)
Willem de Kooning’s biographers state, “Pollock’s self-destruction had a kind of grandeur that
many in the art world respected. Pollock seemed a purely American figure, an authentic visionary,
cowboy, and maverick.” (189)
The Updike title alludes to the verse in Psalm 27: “You speak in my heart and say, ‘Seek my face.’Your face, Lord, will I seek.” The psalmist and novelist, as well as biographers, want to unveil the
image of their subject, yet they know, ultimately, the image will remain a mystery. However, Updike
also veils his subject, Jackson Pollock, but doing so only thinly. For example, some names in
Updike’s novel are more obvious allusions, such as Onna de Genoog representing Willem de
Kooning, or Hackmann for Hofmann. Seamus O’Rourke is nearly an anagram for Mark Rothko.
Updike’s main character is named Zack McCoy in the novel. The novel’s name for the artist is an
allusion to both the artist’s familiar first name (Jack) and his father’s actual last name (McCoy).
The Real McCoy
Apparently only Pollock’s family called him Jack (146), and he signed at least one letter ‘Jacks’
(384). In 1930, Pollock dropped his first name, Paul. Years later his wife, Lee Krasner, would refer
to him, even in his presence, as Pollock.
McCoy was the birth name of Jackson’s father, LeRoy. After the death of LeRoy’s parents, in
1897, he was taken care of by a family named Pollock. Ten days before his twenty-first birthday
LeRoy was adopted by the Pollocks. He then took on the name Pollock. Later he asked a lawyer to
have his name changed back to McCoy, but doing so would have been too expensive (383).C o m p o s i t i o n w i t h P o u r i n g I I, 1943.
Oil on canvas, 64.7 x 56.2 cm,
Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.M a l e a n d F e m a l e, 1942.
Oil on canvas, 184.4 x 124.5 cm,
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia.

Stranger Than Fiction
While biographies don’t often include fiction in their resources, there are novels, plays, and movies
about Pollock which do, with the usual caveats, help weave over certain holes in the veils that partly
cover the subject.
A reviewer for T i m e M a g a z i n e felt the Updike novel was lovely and wise (63). In fact, Updike’s
very imaginative portrait of Pollock not only reveals some details more clearly than most serious
biographies, but, unfortunately, also collates facts with tabloid rumours concerning alleged
homosexuality, affairs and illegitimate children of the artist. More than a few Pollock fans believe the
novel, like sensational tabloid headlines, perpetuates unsubstantiated myths unnecessarily. Some feel
there is really enough violence, shock and dissipation in the facts, without exaggerating them.
There is also another highly imaginative novel of Pollock’s life: T o p o f t h e W o r l d , M a !, by
Michael Guinzburg. The novel presents several of the same events from Pollock’s life as Updike’s
novel (30). The title refers to a line spoken by actor Jimmy Cagney in the 1949 movie W h i t e H e a t.
The original line is, “Look at me now, Ma! Top of the world!” The line would certainly have been
appropriate for a successful Pollock to say to his own mother at the height of his career.
The Pollock Family
Jackson was the youngest of five boys in the family of LeRoy McClure Pollock (1876-1933) and
Stella May (1875-1958). His brothers were Charles Cecil (1902-1988), Marvin Jay (1904-1986),
Frank Leslie (1907-1994), and Sanford ‘Sande’ LeRoy (1909-1963). An abbreviated family tree is
According to Jackson’s sister-in-law, Elizabeth, Jackson’s mother wanted all five of her sons to be
artists of some kind. She considered them potential geniuses. However, in a letter to Charles, Sanford
said he thought the emotional problems their brother Jackson had “date back to his childhood, to his
relations with the family and our mother.” (145)
The facts about the Pollock family and its origins tell something about their youngest son, ‘the
cowboy’. He continued the mythology of his roots. His brothers – who experienced Cody and the
Western culture longer than Jackson – seemed to have moved on, more able than Jackson to adopt
and adapt to their new environments. Because of Jackson’s rebellious temperament and drive for
individual and independent expression, it is possible he might not have cared to retain the urban
cowboy tendency had any of his brothers continued the cowboy role.
Throughout his life Pollock would mention growing up in Cody; however, he actually spent less
than his first ten months in the town before the family moved to National City, near San Diego,
California. The move would be the first of several during Jackson’s youth. For example, after only
eight months in National City the Pollock family moved. In 1913, at age thirty-seven, LeRoy bought a
truck farm in Phoenix, Arizona. He sold it only four years later, and then moved the family to Chico,
California, where he bought and sold another farm, and then bought a hotel in Janesville.
During his first decade, Jackson lived in six different houses as his father tried job after job,
without much success, in three states. In California alone the Pollock family lived in eight different
Pollock’s parents were originally from Iowa, the state just West of Jackson’s birth state of Wyoming.
They were Presbyterians of Scottish and Irish origin, their ancestors had been Quakers, but they did
not indoctrinate their children into any religion. Apparently none of the Pollock boys could remember
whether Jackson had been baptised. Updike reminded his readers that Quakers don’t baptise.
In a 1929 letter to Charles and Frank, Jackson confessed he had “dropped religion for the present,”
even though the year before he had been deeply impressed with Theosophy. Stories from the Christian
Gospels would appear in only a few of Jackson’s drawings, which mainly reflected his studies of
classic artists, including El Greco.
The fact that Jackson had not been baptised would become an issue at the time of his marriage.However, it was he, not his wife, Lee Krasner, who wanted to have a church wedding. Lee had been
raised in the Jewish faith.
Pollock the Cowboy
A 1927 photo of fifteen-year-old Jackson taken by Lee Ewing is the only one showing him posing in
Western garb. It contributes significantly to the myth of Pollock as a cowboy. But there are also
photos showing he would occasionally wear formal attire and pose like a young European royal, with
a jaunty walking cane in hand. In fact, the translator of a German biography referred to these quaint
photos, commenting on the young man at the time, “…cultivates dandyish attire.” (123)
After filming his movie P o l l o c k , director Ed Harris regretted the famous ‘cowboy’ photo wasn’t
shown more clearly in the film. (45) The photo is seen only briefly, and off to the side of an early
scene showing Pollock’s Eighth Street apartment in Greenwich Village, Manhattan.Easter and the Totem, 1953.
Oil on canvas, 208.6 x 147.3 cm,
The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

“No chaos, damn it!” (413)
– Age 38The Flame, 1934-1938.
Oil on canvas, mounted on fibreboard, 51.1 x 76.2 cm,
The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

“I’m just more at ease in a big area than I am on some thing 2 x 2; I feel more at home in a big
area.” (406)
– Age 38

Perhaps because of America’s admiration for the pioneers of the country’s West and the
mythology of the American cowboy, Pollock often seemed to be forgiven for his crude behaviour.
Some observers might even say this tolerance extended to his reckless drunken driving, if not also to
its ultimate consequences. Minutes before his death while driving drunk, a policeman who knew
Pollock would unfortunately overlook his drunken state.
Like some of the rough-edged characters of Western fiction, Pollock would live out a boisterous
and often crude Wild West spirit, especially in the bars of lower Manhattan. Meanwhile his brilliant
art would intoxicate sophisticated viewers in the world’s most civilised museums (290). In fact, the
art world would be influenced forever by Pollock’s unique, important and indelible contribution.
Even during his lifetime, Pollock had become the new benchmark to which the art world would refer,
as they began to consider modern art as ‘before,’ ‘contemporary with,’ or ‘after’ Pollock.
Pollock’s influence is still notable fifty years later. In a review of the first showing of the early
efforts of Italian painter Carla Accardi, in Manhattan in 2005, Roberta Smith of The New York Times
notes the paintings of Accardi include impressive works from the mid-1950s. Her fields of scattered
and overlapping circles and signs, rendered in white or yellow and black, “…suggest a controlled
response to the work of Jackson Pollock.” (389)
Not all references back to Pollock reflect an understanding of what his method was about. During
the 2004 U.S. presidential election campaign, Daniel Okrent, the public editor of The New York
Times spoke of what he saw as poor management of the paper’s coverage of the campaign. He
compared its chaos to a “…pattern adapted from Jackson Pollock.” The title of his article was How
would Jackson Pollock Cover this Campaign? (378).
Family Politics
Walsh noted Pollock’s father, LeRoy, had been a socialist and his son became one too. As Pollock’s
biographers also note, LeRoy supported socialist labour leaders and “celebrated at the news that the
workers of Russia had taken control of their government.” Of his five sons, two would become activein the labour movement and one would join the Communist party. The other two became artists and
had less strong political interests (300).
Early Veils
The distinction between the authentic and the fabricated Pollock began even in the artist’s lifetime.
Pollock himself kept the myth alive that he was an unsophisticated cowboy.
The country was eager to hear about cowboy legends. The popularity of the image was seen in pop
culture through many movies and novels containing Western themes, as well as ‘country and western’
songs which were accepted into the mainstream parade of hits. It is likely most Americans can trace
their images of the Old West back to movies, especially those made by John Ford (Sean Aloysius
O’Feeny), who was born in Maine in 1895. He devoted about half of his prolific output to the
American Western genre. According to his friend, Ted Dragon, Pollock enjoyed going to weekly
Western or science-fiction movies, for which their affluent friend, Alfonso Ossorio, would pay (318).
It is very likely Ford directed most of those Westerns. These movies probably played at least as big a
role in Pollock’s image of the Old West as did his few early years living in Western states.
Western themes even appeared in classical music, including Aaron Copeland’s music for ballets in
the 1940s. In the 1940s, several Broadway musicals and, in the 1950s, many television programs,
were based on Western themes. Of course these programs were rarely documentaries and did not
reflect much of the reality of the pioneering days of the Western states. Steven Spielberg’s 2005
twelve-hour series, Into the West, is a remarkable exception. The eastern, or Big City, version of the
cowboy evolved into the rebellious young men of the 1950s, not unlike Pollock’s real personality.
Even fellow painters compared Pollock to Marlon Brando’s brooding character, Stanley Kowalski, in
the film version of A Streetcar Named Desire. Commentators saw in the artist what might have been
the playwright’s inspiration. Tennessee Williams and Pollock had become friends in 1944, several
years before the 1951 play. Benton painted a portrait of the original theatrical cast of the play in
1948. Some commentators see the physical lines of the main character in Benton’s sketch for The
Poker Party scene from the play as being those of the young Pollock (224). The play has had several
revivals, including the version performed in February 2005, again on Broadway.
After the wife of Pollock’s friend, Tony Smith, left him and went to Europe with the playwright
Tennessee Williams in 1950, the lonely Smith spent even more time at the Pollock house. Tennessee
was often seen on his bicycle going to and from the Pollock house. Williams’ play, The Rose Tattoo,
and his novel, The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, both critical successes, were released that year.

In 1913, Freud’s Totem and Taboo was published. In Paris, Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du
Printemps premiered. The pioneering Armory Show in Manhattan shocked the art world with
seminal examples of post-impressionism and cubism.N u m b e r 1 , 1 9 4 9, 1949.
Enamel and metallic paint on canvas, 160 x 259.1 cm,
The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles,
The Rita and Taft Schreiber Collection.White Light, 1954.
Oil, enamel and aluminium paint on canvas, 122.4 x 96.9 cm,
The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

The Advent of Abstract Expressionism
During Pollock’s pre-teenage years, culture shocks (such as those coming from Freud, Stravinsky,
and Dada) seemed to be preparing the world for him. Ryder and other predecessors died in 1917. They
were yet to be admired by the young Pollock, while others whom he would look up to including
Matisse and Picasso were already flourishing. The decade was also the advent of the basic documents
of Jungian psychology which would influence the behaviour and work of the future artist intimately.
In 1913, post-impressionism and cubism were introduced to the New York art world at the
Armory Show in Manhattan. The resulting culture shock paved the way for the jolt of seeing the
brilliant results of Pollock’s creative gesture which were still several years away. The large
murallike paintings he would create would similarly revolutionise how the world experienced art. The
shock in the galleries would be similar to the reaction in the concert hall that same year to
Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps.
The visual art scene in Europe was preparing the world for a similar revolution in popular culture.
The surprise would be that the ice would be broken in America – by a very unlikely cowboy-like

In 1914, Tennessee Williams was born. In 1915, Marcel Duchamp showed his first Dada-type
paintings. In 1916 Matisse (1860-1954) showed The Three Sisters. In 1917, C.J. Jung
published Psychology of the Unconscious. Picasso created Surrealist objects for a ballet.
Albert P. Ryder (b.1847), who developed a technique of painting sweeping strokes with a
palette knife, died. In 1918, Joan Miró had his first exhibits. In 1919, Hans Arp and Max
Ernst showed collages. Arp explored Dadaism through sculpture and ‘chance’ forms. Ernst
sought to express the subconscious. In 1920, C.J. Jung published Psychological Types. In
Cologne, visitors were encouraged to destroy the paintings in a Dadaist exhibition. In 1921,
Oskar Kokoschka exhibited expressionist paintings. Jazz dominated American popular
The Early Influences
In 1921, Jackson’s brother Charles moved to Los Angeles to take a job at The Los Angeles Times. He
also enrolled in the Otis Art Institute and sent home issues of the art magazine, The Dial. Over forty
years later, on his deathbed, Sanford would thank Charles for sending copies of The Dial. “He said
they meant a lot to him and Jack,” Charles remembered (327). Later Charles also sent American
Mercury (1924-33), the controversial literary magazine published by Henry Louis Mencken
(18801956), who was a columnist on The Baltimore Sun, from 1906 until his death.
These publications brought visions of East Coast sophistication to the young artists. The
magazines also included reproductions of contemporary European art the young Jackson probably
saw as he watched the older boys read about the Paris School, which was the rage. His life-long
interest – some biographers say his obsession – with Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) could have begun
with seeing these magazines sent home by Charles.

In 1922, James Joyce’s Ulysses was published in Paris. Copies sent to the U.S. were
destroyed by the U.S. post office. In 1923, the Dada movement ended. Picasso showed in
Neoclassicism, Surrealism, and Expressionism. The New York Prohibition Enforcement Act
was repealed. The tri-state conclave of the K.K.K. was held in Kokomo, Indiana, and was
noted in a mural by Benton.
Pre-teen Art Education
In 1922, Jackson’s father moved the family again to another farm at Orland, California. The next year
they moved to a farm near Phoenix, Arizona. Jackson attended the Monroe Elementary School there,
but he stayed for only a few weeks. He visited Native American reservations with his brothers for thefirst time. Soon thereafter he was initiated into the traditions of Indian culture. He saw how the native
artists integrated raw materials into their painting and other art. Their works were typically abstract or
at least included abstract designs. Moreover, they worked on areas which were flat to the ground.
Eighteen years later Pollock would visit an exhibit titled Indian Art of the United States at The
Museum of Modern Art (henceforth referred to as MoMA) where he observed how Navajo artists
made sand paintings on the floor. He would refer to both of those experiences ten years later when
asked about the origins of his famous technique of gestural painting.
According to New York art reviewer Mark Stevens, a teacher enjoyed asking students what the
best abstract art ever made in America was. They would predictably reply, “Pollock.” However, the
teacher would correct them, noting, “You forgot the Navajo women.” The teacher was, as Stevens
points out, referring to the Indian weavings they did, creating rugs “…as visually powerful as a
modernist painting.” (103)