Paul Jackson Pollock was born on January 28, 1912, in Cody, Wyoming. He grew up in Arizona and California and in 1928 began to study painting at the Manual Arts High School, Los Angeles. In fall 1930 Pollock moved to New York and studied under Thomas Hart Benton at the Art Students League. Benton encouraged him throughout the succeeding decade. By the early 1930s Pollock knew and admired the murals of José Clemente Orozco and Diego Rivera. Although he traveled widely throughout the United States during the 1930s, much of Pollock’s time was spent in New York, where he settled permanently in 1934 and worked on the Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project (1935–42) and in David Alfaro Siqueiros’s experimental workshop in New York (1936).
In 1943, Pollock briefly worked as a maintenance man at the Museum of Non-Objective Painting (forerunner to the Guggenheim Museum). Later that year, Peggy Guggenheim gave him a contract that lasted through 1947, permitting him to devote all his time to painting. His first solo show was held at Guggenheim’s Art of This Century, New York (1943). Prior to 1947 Pollock’s work reflected the influence of Pablo Picasso and Surrealism. During the early 1940s he contributed paintings to several exhibitions of Surrealist and abstract art, including Natural, Insane, Surrealist Art (1943) at Art of This Century, and Abstract and Surrealist Art in America (1944), organized by Sidney Janis at the Mortimer Brandt Gallery, New York. By the mid-1940s, Pollock was painting in a completely abstract manner, liberating himself from the vertical constraints of an easel by affixing unstretched raw canvas to the floor. In 1947, his “drip style,” marked by the use of sticks, trowels, or knives to drip and splatter paint, as well as pouring paint directly from the can, emerged. Reminiscent of the Surrealist notions of the subconscious and automatic painting, Pollock’s drips, also called “action paintings,” revolutionized the potential for contemporary art and furthered the development of Abstract Expressionism.
From fall 1945, when artist Lee Krasner and Pollock were married, they lived in the Springs, East Hampton, New York. Peggy Guggenheim organized his first European solo exhibition at the Museo Correr, Venice, in 1950. In 1952 Pollock’s first solo show in Paris opened at the Studio Paul Facchetti, and critic Clement Greenberg organized his first retrospective at Bennington College, Vermont. He was included in many group exhibitions, including the Whitney Annual (later Whitney Biennial) from 1946 and the Venice Biennale in 1950. Although his work was widely known and exhibited internationally, the artist never traveled outside the United States. He was killed in an automobile accident on August 11, 1956, in East Hampton.