Press "Enter" to skip to content

What Made Jackson Pollock Famous?

Jackson Pollock was a world-famous US painter who was a leading exponent of Abstract Expressionism, which is an art movement characterised by the free-associative gestures in paint. This style is also sometimes referred to as “action painting”.

The Beginning

Pollock (whose birth name is Paul Jackson Pollock) was born in Cody, Wyoming, in 1912. The youngest of five brothers, Pollack’s parents, Stella May (who was born McClure) and LeRoy Pollock were born in, and also grew up in, Tingley, Iowa.

At the end of 1912, Stella took her sons to San Diego. Jackson was less than a year and would never go back to Cody. He then grew up in Arizona as well as Chico, California.

While he was living in the Vermont Square neighbourhood of Los Angeles, Pollack signed up at Manual Arts High School. He was expelled from this school and he had already been expelled in 1928 from another secondary school.

Throughout his early life, Pollock investigated Native American culture while on surveying trips with his father. In addition, he was heavily influenced by Mexican muralists, in particular José Clemente Orozco whose fresco Prometheus he would later term as “the greatest painting in North America”.

In 1930, together with his older brother Charles Pollock, he went to New York City, where they studied under Thomas Hart Benton at the Art Students League. Benton’s rural American subject matter had little-to-no influence on Pollock’s work, however his rhythmic usage of paint and his ferocious independence were more lasting. In the early 1930s, long before we could enjoy Australian FIFA World Cup betting online, Pollock devoted a summer travelling the Western United States together with Glen Rounds, who was a fellow art student, and Benton, their teacher.

Full Fathom Five

Full Fathom Five is one of Pollock’s first drip paintings. While its lacelike top layers are made up of poured skeins of house paint, Pollock built up the underlayer utilising a brush and palette knife. A close look exposes an assortment of objects embedded in the surface, in addition to cigarette butts, nails, thumbtacks, buttons, coins as well as a key.

Although many of these items are obscured by paint, they add to the work’s dense and encrusted appearance. The title, suggested by a neighbour, comes from Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, in which the character Ariel defines a death by shipwreck: “Full fathom five thy father lies / Of his bones are coral made / Those are pearls which were his eyes.”

The She-Wolf

In the early 1940s Pollock, as with many of his peers, delved into primeval or mythological themes in his work. The wolf in this painting might allude to the animal which suckled the twin founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus, in the story of the Italian city’s birth.

The She-Wolf was featured in Pollock’s very first solo exhibition, at Art of This Century gallery in New York in 1943. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) acquired the painting the following year, making it the first work by Pollock to arrive in a museum collection.