This month’s master is none other than Paul Jackson Pollock, nicknamed “Action Jackson”. Born on January 28, 1912, in Cody, Wyoming, his father, LeRoy Pollock, was a farmer and a government land surveyor. His mother, Stella May McClure, was a fierce woman with strong artistic interests. You’ve heard of him, you have seen his work in museums. A single one of his paintings have sold for Fifty million dollars, and yet, when you look at his work you might say, “That is great art? I could do that!” Moreover, some would agree with you.
“Action Jackson” Always on the Move
He may have been known as “Action Jackson” to the art world due to his innovative way in which he dripped, flung, scattered and poured paint across a spread out canvas on the floor; but even before he began his art career he had been a “man on the move”! His parents never stayed in one place for very long but always favoured farm life. Jackson may have looked rugged, but the outdoors never agreed with him. Although he disliked living rough, Jackson was proud of his Wild West roots and was known to wear a cowboy hat and buckle throughout his adult life.
Long Hair and Silk Shirts
Jackson never took any drawing classes, never set foot in a museum, and never showed an interest in painting until his eldest brother Charles became keen on the subject. Jackson was awestruck by his older brother’s ability to draw realistic swine and submarines. Although Jackson showed no interest in drawing or painting, he envied his brother's long hair, expensive silk shirts and general cosmopolitan appearance. He began telling people that he was going to be an artist like Charles when he grew up.
Jackson and the Wadatkut Indians
When the Pollock family moved to Janesville, California Jackson made friends with two Native American boys in his school. The two friends were not only the best illustrators in his class, they knew rope tricks too, which impressed him all the more.
Jackson made a connection with their spirit world when he witnessed a Native American ritual called a Bear Dance. He learned of their sacred painting rituals; these practices were supposed to bring the natives closer to the spirits of their ancestors. Jackson adopted their religious beliefs, and they became a focal point to his art-making in later years. Native American art made its biggest impression on young Jackson while he and his brother discovered a cave chamber filled with pictures on the walls “signed” by the artists using their handprints as their signatures. He would eventually incorporate a carefully placed handprint by way of a signature on each of his works.
Jackson’s Style Is Born
Pollocks brother eventually moved to New York to study art, and at his urging, Jackson followed. While studying at the Art Students League, Jackson became interested in European modernism with artists such as Picasso, and Mexican muralists like Jose Clemente. Jackson quickly adopted the belief that revolutionary art required new materials like automobile lacquer and paint thinner. He embraced originative techniques like airbrushing, stencilling, flinging paint and “controlled” accidents. His original work reflects his Native American interests and surrealism. He liked the idea of yielding control of the making process to let the unconscious mind control the path of his art. This idea is what led to his first “Drip and Splash” painting in 1947 that landed him his first art show.
A Mop of Tangled Hair
Some championed his art, notably Clement Greenburg of the Museum of Modern Art, who believed Pollock paintings were the culmination of the advancement of art. Although there were other “drip artists” at that same time, such as Arshile Gorky and Hand Hoffman, Pollock soon became a larger-than-life figure, thanks to media attention and the graphic images made by photographer Hans Namuth of Pollock painting in 1950. However, not everyone saw his genius. In fact, the New York World-Telegram, (a New York City newspaper from 1867 to 1966) once compared Jackson’s work to “a mop of tangled hair”. Time magazine regarded his paintings as “a child’s contour map of the Battle of Gettysburg”. Pollok maintained that his work was not “chaotic” but was instead an example of great expressionism. When looking at his work, Pollock recommended we, “not look for but look passively and try to receive what the painting has to offer and not bring a subject matter or preconceived idea to it.” Of course, no one comes to art or anything this way. However, perhaps we can appreciate the work he suggested “just as music is enjoyed. After a while, you may like it or you may not.”
Jackson Pollock was at the wheel when he died in an alcohol-related car accident in 1956. He was only 44 years old.
*The National Gallery of British Art also known as the Tate Gallery is an art museum on Millbank in the City of Westminster in London.
When you click the gold button above you can make your very own “action Jackson” inspired painting! All you need is yellow and black paint and a BIG piece of paper. You can also upload your finished art work and connect with other young artists in the United Kingdom and around the world!
*Pinterest.com has countless Jackson Pollock inspired projects to choose from. All you need to create an account is an email address. Once you have an account simply type: Jackson Pollock: Art Lessons for Kids into the search bar and you are on your way to creating tons a great drip paintings!
*Mati and Dada on YouTube really know to make learning fun with their videos about famous Artists! Copy and paste this link to see their Jackson Pollock video or simply type in Jackson Pollock for kids in the YouTube search bar. Their video will appear at the top of your choices.