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Lee Krasner

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Lee Krasner: Oct. 27,1908-June 19,1984...United States

One of the major artists in the area of action painting was Lee Krasner. As a Brooklyn, New York native, she was born Lena Krassner, to Russian-Jewish immigrants Joseph and Anna. 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 through 1932. Although she had a good art foundation, she took classes to earn a teaching certification as she worked as an artist, model, and waitress. In 1934, she was accepted to work for the Public Works of Art Project during the Great Depression. “The procedure was that an artist got a mural and then he would have anywhere from two to ten assistants depending on the size of the mural and how many assistants he needed, or she needed.” She worked during the day and took classes at night. She stopped working for the Public Works and resumed as a full time art student in 1937, this time under Hans Hofmann. Her work drastically was altered to fit the Hofmann style. “I think, if one is a painter, all you experience does come out when you’re painting.” It was during this time, she became good friends with critics, Harold Rosenberg and Clement Greenberg, who would be major supporters of the abstractionist scene she was apart of. Her intense ambition, as well as her association with the American Abstract Artists in New York, and she prided herself for knowing every major artist in the group. “If you can't get out of school and get off the campus and experience life in the world of reality, that's pretty depressing. There's a lot of what I call campus art around now. And I think campus art is fine while you're in school. But that’s your early stages of learning. If you're a pianist, you have to learn your keyboard.. but then you’ve got to get on with it.” That is until she was selected to participate in the "French and American Painting" in 1942 and noticed a name she had never seen before. She knew Willem de Kooning, Stuart Davis, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Amedeo Modigliani. That unfamiliar name was that of fellow exhibitor, Jackson Pollock. “In the late 30s the name Pollock was totally unknown and unheard of.” Not knowing who he was, Krasner had to find out. She went to his studio. "How could there be a painter like that that I didn't know about?" That meeting in 1941 resulted in a romance that would lead to their marriage four years later. "In the beginning, I was much more interested in what he was doing than in what I was doing."

Over those first years together, the couple lived and worked together. "We had a continuing dialogue about our work, although we kept separate studios and don't visit each other unless invited." Over those years she wanted to undo the teachings of Hofmann and soak up all that genius that she saw in Pollock. Also, as an established artist she would not follow Pollock, but learn from their close association. She was a harsh critic of her work, often redoing a work multiple time and even at times getting so frustrated with a work, completely destroying the whole series it came from, at if to start the whole idea again fresh. All those works from those early days, all her praise and ambition stopped in an instant. Why stop? She knew as a woman and a slightly better than average artist she had a lot of work to go before she made it to the top. But Jackson. Now, that guy could paint. She stopped promoting her works and put most of her energy into lifting Jackson Pollock to greatness. I feel that it is safe to say, Without Lee Krasner, there would have been no Jackson Pollock. The first thing she had to do was to get Pollock away from alcohol. So she put her foot down and they moved to the country area of East Hampton, New York in November 1945. There, she continued to work out of a small bedroom as a studio space. “With Jackson there was quiet solitude. Just to sit and look at the landscape. An inner quietness. After dinner, to sit on the back porch and look at the light. No need for talking.” She only was a part of a hand full of shows at this time but her greatest artistic contribution was her attempt to direct Pollock. He was experimenting with several ideas and in 1946, she began working on the Little Image series that was created by building up dots and drips. These works inspired Pollock's “drip paintings” and the action painting style. “As I say, I as an abstract artist was active politically.” For this reason, and keeping in mind her high academic comprehension of art and her management of Pollock, I feel that Lee Krasner was the true inventor of action painting. But soon their marriage fell into disrepair. Pollock was drinking heavily and having an affair that he was too drunk to hide and Krasner plain gave up the attempt of guiding the wild animal that was Pollock any longer. Pollock quit painting and his drip paintings were becoming a been-there, done-that, now-what sort of style. Not only that but Krasner’s work was becoming more popular than before. That really got at Pollock. Soon, while on a trip to Europe, Pollock died while driving drunk. She now had to pick up the peaces and move on.

For Lee Krasner to live after Pollock, she found council, release, and escape through her art. Her Earth Green series of 1957 through 1959 was a major part of her personal anger management counseling. She was living in Manhattan, New York, but spent a considerable amount of time in her East Hampton farm that she kept with Pollock. Her career had to go on hold in 1962, when she suffered from a near fatal brain aneurysm and a series of illnesses over the next two years. But after her recovery and several successful exhibitions in some esteemed galleries, she stepped out of the role of Mrs. Jackson Pollock and became recognized as Lee Krasner, a major contributor to contemporary art.

Although Lee Krasner was never celebrated as artist in Pollock's life she did ultimately become a highly respected woman in the art world. She was always evolving as an artist. “I have never been able to understand the artist whose image never changes.” She took on so many styles and learned from all the artists she came into contact with. Beside the obvious inspirations, she was also greatly inspired by the works of Piet Mondrian and, more than anyone else throughout her life, Henri Matisse. “All my work keeps going like a pendulum.. it seems to swing back to something I was involved with earlier, or it moves between horizontality and verticality, circularity, or a composite of them. For me, I suppose, that change is the only constant.”

Plagued with illness, Lee Krasner did see the first retrospective of her life as an artist. She attended the opening at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas. From there it moved to San Francisco, California; Phoenix, Arizona; Norfolk, Virginia. The exhibition was to end at the Museum of Modern Art. She was very much looking forward to attending that show. Sadly, she would pass on in a New York hospital from internal bleeding caused from diverticulitus, before the show that opened in December of 1984. She was buried near Jackson Pollock in the Green River Cemetery near East Hampton, New York and their farm became the Pollock-Krasner House and Studio, a public sight that offers tours. In 2000, Marcia Gay Harden won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Lee Krasner in Ed Harris’ film Pollock, which was a very accurate depiction of history.

Mr. Mike Burgher * PO Box 247 * Dallas Center, Iowa. 50063