Influential Abstract Expressionist painter Paul Jackson Pollock was born on January 28, 1912 in Cody, Wyoming. With his father, a farmer and government surveyor, mother and four brothers, Pollock grew up in Arizona and Chico, California, before moving to Greenwich Village. He lived in several Village apartments before becoming the Jackson Pollock who is considered one of the most famous 20th-century American artists.
In 1930, following his brother Charles, Jackson moved to New York City. He soon began studying with Charles’ art teacher, representational regionalist painter Thomas Hart Benton, at the Art Students League. Benton’s rural American subject matter shaped Pollock’s work only fleetingly, but his rhythmic use of paint and his fierce independence were lasting influences. Pollock spent much of his time with Benton, often babysitting Benton’s young son, and the Bentons eventually became like the family Pollock felt he never had. When he was a still-unknown painter, he lived at 49 East 10th Street, a building Village Preservation is working to landmark as part of our efforts to protect the area south of Union Square.
In 1935 Pollock and his brother Charles moved in together in a floor-through unheated studio for $35 a month at 46 East 8th Street, located between Greene and Mercer Streets. When Charles and his wife moved out, Pollock’s lover and future wife Lee Krasner moved in. Unfortunately, this building has since been demolished and replaced.
Pollock lived at 46 Carmine Street in the 1940s. This still extant Federal Style home is within the South Village Extension of the Greenwich Village Historic District, which we secured landmark designation for in 2010. Pollock also briefly lived at 47 Horatio Street .
The famous Cedar Tavern was the number one hangout for New York School artists like Pollock, de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko, and Franz Kline, just to name a few. They gathered here at least every other night to drink, socialize, and discuss art. In fact, it is often said that it was here that Abstract Expressionism was born and bred. The tavern changed locations several times, but in 1945 it moved to 24 University Place, where it experienced its heyday. Pollock and the like were fond of the Cedar for its cheap drinks (15 cents a beer, to be exact) and unpretentious location on then off-the-beaten-track University Place.
Around 1948 this group of Village artists began to hold weekly meetings at 35 East 8th Street (it would later move to number 39) that included panel discussions and lectures. This became known as “The Club” and was extremely influential in the lives and careers of the New York School artists.
Exactly how Jackson Pollock’s famous drip technique developed has been a matter of long and inconclusive scholarly argument, but his work was already taking steps towards it in the mid-1940s, around the same time Pollock and Krasner married and moved to Long Island in November, 1945. Pollock’s art began to lose the symbolic imagery of his earlier pictures and looked for more abstract means of expression. In the following years his style continued to become more and more abstract, exemplified by works like Shimmering Substance (1946). The following year he finally hit on the idea of flinging and pouring paint, and thus found the means to create the light and airy webs of color that he was reaching towards; masterpieces such as Full Fathom Five (1947) were the result. Pollock had arrived at a unique method that combined Impressionism, Surrealism and Cubism.
Throughout his life Jackson Pollock enjoyed considerable fame and notoriety. He was regarded as a mostly reclusive artist with a volatile personality who struggled with alcoholism. His wife and fellow artist Lee Krasner was an important influence on his career and legacy. Pollock died in an alcohol-related car accident on August 11, 1956 at the age of 44. In December of that year, he was given a memorial retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and a larger more comprehensive exhibition at MoMA in 1967. He has had hundreds of shows and large-scale retrospectives throughout the world.
Like generations of artists, writers, actors, and other creative types before and after him, Jackson Pollock’s legacy continues to live on in the Village.
In 2012, we organized a lecture by art historian and MoMa educator Larissa Bailiff titled Jackson Pollack’s Downtown Years, watch it here.