A few days ago, I watched the movie, Pollock, illuminating the life of abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock and his relationship with his wife, fellow artist Lee Krasner. A very well done film, we see Pollock develop his signature style, with Krasner’s selfless support, promotion and patience. In the meanwhile, we see her caring and cooking for him but not doing much of her artwork. Peggy Guggenheim dismisses her work and we do not even see her flinch. We even have an opportunity to condemn her when she refuses Pollock a child because taking care of him was more consuming than a child.
While the evolution of his work and their lives together was fascinating, I found myself becoming increasingly angry with both of them. Brilliant Pollock infuriated me with his sense of entitlement, his misogynist attitude, his willingness to destroy others and himself. Krasner, during that time, minimized herself on so many levels. She took a role played out over and over in our society, putting her energies into futhering her husband’s career and ego while it never occurred to him to do the same for her.
Lee Krasner was born in Brooklyn in 1908 of Russian-Jewish immigrant parents. Her early art training was at The Cooper Union, Art Students League, and the National Academy of Design in New York, where she studied from 1928-32. A headstrong personality, she was frequently defiant during her traditional art education as she received a solid foundation in painting and drawing. In 1932, she became part of the New Deal‘s Federal Art Project that kept many artists alive during the Great Depression. She worked as an assistant creating public large scale murals and finally was able to work full time as an artist.
Unsatisfied with more traditional styles, she studied with abstract expressionist Hans Hofmann, who introduced her to the work of Picasso and Matisse. Under the tutelage of Hofmann, Krasner began to work in an “all-over” style, covering the surfaces of her paintings with abstract, repetitive designs informed by floral motifs. It was her artistic influence that aided her husband, Jackson Pollock’s stylistic transition.
Krasner was one of the few women to work in the Abstract Expressionist style, she constantly challenged her own approach to painting, sometimes cutting up her older paintings and reassembling them using a collage technique inspired by Henri Matisse. She was the only Abstract Expressionist to employ collage as a primary medium. Her “all-over” technique was derived from Piet Mondrian’s “grid”, influenced Jackson Pollock’s famous drip paintings, placed her work as a major transitional force in the course of Abstract Expressionism.
I find Krasner’s work extraordinarily beautiful and I expect to find inspiration in its beauty.