Jackson Pollock

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The dominant figure that steered the course of the Abstract Expressionist movement was the infamous painter Jackson Pollock. He was born Paul Jackson Pollock in Cody, Wyoming on January 28, 1912. He was the fifth and youngest son and grew up in Arizona and California after his family left him when he was a little over one year old. Pollock's artistic journey began at the Manual Arts School in Los Angeles, California where he joined two of his brothers. From there, he went on to New York to attend the Art Students' League after being convinced by one of his brothers whom also attended the school.

Before moving into his own innovative style, Pollock would have to learn the formal rules of art, as every accomplished artist does. Without knowing the formal rules of art, one could claim that the artist is unaware of what art really is. Regionalist painter Thomas Hart Benton, from the Art Students' League in New York, was Jackson Pollock's first major influence in his early years as a painter. But he was an influence in a peculiar way, however. Benton was actually known for his mural and landscape paintings that show scenes from everyday life in the Midwest. He did not create these paintings in a realist manner, however. He included some distortion and his own stylistic attributes when creating human figures and colorful swirling environments. For Pollock, Benton's landscapes stood too still. Pollock explained the result of their relationship best when he said, "My work with Benton was important as something against which to react very strongly, later on; in this, it was better to have worked with him than with a less resistant personality who would have provided a much less strong opposition." Benton's strong emphasis on the formal rules of art actually inspired Pollock to move into the extreme opposite direction later on in his life. He studied with Benton for a total of three years.

As an alternative to American Realism, Pollock began to look at the works of the European Surrealists. Through European Surrealism, he discovered the idea of automatic drawing and biomorphic forms. These Surrealist painters gave gesture painters like Pollock the "permission" to loosen their drawings and not abide by the stricter and more formal rules of earlier movements such as Cubism and Realism. Cubism also left Pollock with no room to express his larger than life creativity and inner feelings. Along with the Surrealists, the Regionalist Mexican painters also influenced him with their extravagant stylistic compositions and extreme contrast of light and dark. In Pollock's late twenties and thirties he was also strongly affected by the Museum of Modern Art and the works shown there. Picasso can be seen as Pollock's most stylistically influential figure. Three Picasso paintings in particular stuck with him through the years: "Girl Before a Mirror", "Guernica", and "Le Desmoilles d'Avignon". "Le Desmoilles d'Avignon" inspired Pollock's painting entitled "Gothic". He also found inspiration from the abstract Spanish painter Joan Miro. Both artists included uses of linear, arrow like forms piercing circles. These influential elements can be seen in Pollock's "Moon Woman," and "Water Figure". Miro's works include a triangle shaped head, as does Pollock's.

These influences listed above provided the basis for what Jackson Pollock did through gaining experience after his graduation from the Art Students League and his employment by the WPA and his work with the Federal Art Project in 1942. Early in his career, Pollock began to maintain a drawing style, which can be described as quick and spontaneous. At the Spanish muralist Siqueiro's workshop in 1936, Pollock actually began painting with spray guns and airbrushes. Siquero also introduced Pollock to his later achieved drip and pour technique, which made him so famous. His "out of the box" ideas led him to being accepted into the Surrealist Circle, which centered...
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