If You Like Jackson Pollock, You'll Love Lee Krasner

Pollock and Krasner were partners in paint, and partners in life

By Google Arts & Culture

Convergence (1952) by Jackson PollockAlbright-Knox Art Gallery

Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) was a practitioner of action paintings and abstract expressionism. Throughout his working years, Pollock produced a kind of meditative art, paired with a macho persona.

He worked in the desert wearing jeans and boots and never without a cigarette, sublimating his emotion into frenetic painting sessions. A maker, a thinker, a man - the quintessential American artist of the twentieth century.

His infamous 'drip paintings' record his physical feats of movement on the flat canvas by the splattered streaks of paint that he dripped and flung. These huge paintings, metres in length, were regarded as the expression of freedom and instinct.

Yet the focus on Pollock has overshadowed the work his collaborator, and wife, Lee Krasner. From her teens she dedicated herself to art, studying at a number of schools and institutes that specialised in the subject.

Untitled, 1946 © Pollock-Krasner Foundation (1946/1946) by Lee Krasner and The Pollock-Krasner FoundationBarbican Centre

Lee Krasner was living in New York when the Museum of Modern Art opened in 1929. She found much influence in the art exhibited there, and began to move away from the traditional education that she had learned at the National Academy.

In 1937, she took a series of classes under the modernist painter Hans Hofmann. Hofmann emphasised cubism, the flatness of the canvas, and using color to create spatial illusion.

After meeting Pollock in 1942, Krasner and Pollock's work developed in tandem. This painting of hers, made in 1946, shows an early experiment in abstract expressionism.

The canvas is criss-crossed with brushstrokes and cuts. The thick layer of paint totally covering the canvas.

At a distance, it appears as a melange, but up close the lurid, acidic colours can be picked out.

The random distribution of paint is given a sense of structure by larger, darker black streaks that describe a kind of swirling mass.

Convergence (1952) by Jackson PollockAlbright-Knox Art Gallery

Compare it to Pollock's Painting A (1950). This was made at the height of his fame, a year after Life magazine printed a four page article asking 'Is he the greatest living painter in the United States?'

This painting has a much freer structure. The paint covers almost all the canvas, but leaves some blank patches to the right.

The size and shape and softness of brushstrokes all differ. In fact, it's more splattery, more drippy.

There's less control over the paint, but there's also a narrower range of colours; red, black, ochre, and a small amount of grey-blue. Darker, moodier colours that he would begin to use during his 'black period'.

Jackson Pollock (1949-04) by Martha HolmesLIFE Photo Collection

The attitudes of the era ensured that Krasner always remained in Pollock's shadow. He would be seen as the innovator and the instigator, she as the follower, if indeed she was recognized at all.

Pollock's sudden death in a drunken car crash in 1956 ensured he would be idolised.

Lee Krasner in her studio in the barn, Springs, 1962 © 1991 Hans Namuth Estate (1962/1962) by Hans Namuth and Lee KrasnerBarbican Centre

Krasner, meanwhile, lived out the rest of her life until June 1984. Over those years, Krasner's style developed further, and her role in the formation of abstract expressionism was reviewed and revised. Today, their mutual influence is recognized by critics and historians.

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