Wednesday, August 6, 2014

WELLESLEY '66 | Pollock-Krasner House Visit, East Hampton

Wellesley '66 at The Rocks, Pollock-Krasner House. Standing
 (L to R): Alice Tepper Marlin, Hannah McClennan. Front
(L to R): Sally Swigert Hamilton, Susan Rittenhouse, Joan
Hass, Robin Reisig, Roschel Holland Stearns. Photos at
the P-K House by JT Marlin.
The Wellesley Class of 1966 visited the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center as part of a 50th mini-reunion. The Pollock-Krasner House ranks #3 on the TripAdvisor list of top attractions in East Hampton, after the LongHouse Reserve and Main Beach.

Both Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner were artists. In 1936, Pollock met his future wife, Lee Krasner, at a party but it was not until 1941, after Pollock had been assessed as unfit for military service, that he met her again.

They were married in 1945 and that year they moved to 830 Springs Fireplace Road, up the road less than half a mile from where Alice and I have spent our summers since 1981.

Krasner's ability to forgive her husband year in and year out makes her a role model (or consolation) to any spouse with a difficult partner. But she rates in the Wonder Woman category.

Wellesley '66 Listens Attentively to Docent in
front of Pollock-Krasner House.
She was a major influence on her husband during his lifetime, both artistically and in helping him address his demons. After his death in 1956, she worked hard at ensuring his artistic immortality.

Pollock, despite multiple human weaknesses, is credited as the leader of a new style of painting, the genre of Abstract Expressionism.

His notoriety helped build New York City's reputation as a center for modern art. It was a time when Europe was losing its centrality and Pollock helped provide a rationale for a shift of the art capital of the world to New York after World War II.

Pollock's Early Life
Inside the Pollock-Krasner House are posted numerous summaries of
the history of the house and the biographies of its inhabitants.

Paul Jackson Pollock (he dropped the "Paul" after 1930) was born January 28, 1912 in Cody, Wyoming. As a boy, he was a loner and a rebel. He used to accompany his father visiting old Native American sites near his Phoenix home.

At high school in L.A.,  he set up a studio with friends in a chicken coop. He was a troublemaker, wearing his hair long and dressing against conventions. He was kicked out of school multiple times for challenging high school authorities, and did not graduate. His problems with booze surfaced as early as 1927, when he was 15.

He was so poor early on, he couldn't afford to go in March 1933 to the funeral of his father, LeRoy Pollock. When he got a job in the job-scarce Depression, it was menial work - cleaning statues for the WPA, or working as a janitor alongside his brother Sanford, at the school where Charles, their eldest brother, taught. One summer, Pollock worked as a lumberjack in Big Pines, California. When there was no work he traveled with hobos by freight train around Oklahoma and northern Texas and was jailed several times.

The insecurity of the Depression era took its toll on him. For example, in July 1937, Pollock was arrested for drunkenness and breach of the peace.  He occasionally stole food and gasoline.  In mid-1938, Pollock had a nervous breakdown and was under psychiatric care for a few months, with Jungian analysts Joseph L. Henderson and Dr. Violet Staub de Laszlo, who both sought to use the images in Pollock’s art as therapy.

His Painting Influences and Technique

Albert Pinkham Ryder, "Pegasus Rising". Ryder was the only
American painter, said Pollock, that interested him.
Before becoming a painter, Pollock was primarily interested in sculpture, which may help explain his three-dimensional approach to painting.

One of Pollock’s most influential teachers, Thomas Hart Benton, believed that art students should learn from the Old Masters how to paint.

In the late 1930s, Pollock's interests had moved on to Picasso, and he filled notebooks with sketches of the agony of Guernica. One of Pollock’s favorite authors was Herman Melville and he named his dog "Captain Ahab" after the hunter for Moby Dick. Pollock once said the only American painter he was interested in was Albert Pinkham Ryder.

His painting technique, not taught in any art school, was to spread a canvas on the floor instead of up on an easel. He rarely used a brush and instead wielded sticks or knives to drip paint on the canvas. (He may have picked up the idea of drip painting from Janet Sobel, a Ukrainian-American painter whose contributions, sadly, appear to have  been neglected.) At one point Pollock even sprayed paint onto the canvas through a syringe.

"The She-Wolf" - purchased by MOMA in 1944. The face of
a wolf is clearly on the right, turned toward the right.
The wolf's body is in the center. This painting reminds me
of Guernica.
According to Krasner, Pollock began titling his later works with numbers because “numbers are neutral. They force people to look at the picture for what it is — pure painting.”

Pollock's "The She-Wolf" was bought by MoMA for $650 in 1944. Pollock said of the painting:
She-Wolf came into existence because I had to paint it. Any attempt on my part to say something about it, to attempt explanation on the inexplicable, could only destroy it. 
Wellesley '66 alums inside the Studio,
 listening to the docent.
In January 1951, Art News's list of the best exhibitions of 1950 was headed by three shows of Pollock.

In December 1956, several months after his death, Pollock was given a memorial retrospective exhibition at the MoMA.  A more comprehensive exhibition of his work was held there in 1967. In 1998, his work was honored with large-scale retrospective exhibitions at MoMA and in 1999 at The Tate in London.

In 2000, Jackson Pollock was the subject of an Academy Award-winning film Pollock, directed by and starring Ed Harris.

The House and His Alcoholism

Pollock and Krasner purchased their East Hampton home on Springs Fireplace Road for $5,000, with the help of his agent, Peggy Guggenheim. He spent the first few winter months fixing up the house. Pollock habitually worked late and slept through the morning. The house is where Pollock developed his style of drip-painting. In 1956 Time Magazine called him "Jack the Dripper".

Our docent (L), Michael Hass and Joan Hass in Studio.
Visitors to the Pollock-Krasner House are provided with slippers to use for walking around on the studio floor where Pollock perfected his technique.

Pollock's boozing was a source of amusement for locals in East Hampton. Some people would buy Pollock drinks at Jungle Pete’s, the local place on Fort Pond Road in Springs, to see him act up when he was drunk. On nights when he drank too much, they drove him home. (Warren Strugatch, "Arts and Letters and a Round of Drinks," NY Times, May 18, 2003.)

Allene B. Talmage, who lived with her late husband, Richard, a plumber, in Springs next door to Pollock and Krasner, said:
The artists had their own circles, but when they came to Jungle Pete's, Bill de Kooning, Jackson, all of them, they communicated with the fishermen and the farmers. The men came back from the war and were cosmopolitan. They didn't find what the artists were doing to be strange. (Strugatch.)
Although Pollock’s parents were both Presbyterians, Pollock and his four older brothers received no religious education as children. He used spiritualism to fight against his alcoholism and mental breakdowns. He showed some interest in the Theosophical Society and teachings of Jiddu Krishnamurti, attending their camp meetings in Ojai, California. He was a tee-totaler for two years, 1948-1950.

View of Accabonac Harbor from Upstairs at the P-K House.
In the summer of 1950, Hans Namuth took hundreds of photos and some film of Pollock at work. Afterwards, Pollock had a drink and began drinking again to excess until his death.

He was 44 on August 11, 1956 when he hit a tree on Springs Fireplace Road, a mile from his home, with two women in the car. He and the woman in the seat next to him died immediately. His mistress, in the back seat, survived. He had been drinking heavily earlier in the evening.

He and Lee Krasner are buried next to each other at the Green River Cemetery near their home.


Pollock's life and finances were similar to those of Vincent van Gogh. Both staked out new artistic ground. Both found early appreciation among fellow artists. Both had trouble selling their art for enough to cover the costs of being an artist. Both were quite well connected in the art world and found patrons - Theo van Gogh and Peggy Guggenheim. Their wider acceptance, more cash for the art, occurred later in their lives, both of which were short. Both were obsessed and more than a little insane. Both were abusive to themselves and others. Both ended up killing themselves - van Gogh with a gun and Pollock by driving drunk on Springs Fireplace Road.