Jackson Pollock, 1950.
Photograph by Hans Namuth

Paul Jackson Pollock was born in Cody, Wyoming on 28 January 1912. He was the fifth and youngest son of LeRoy McCoy Pollock and Stella McClure Pollock. The family left Cody when Pollock was less than a year old, and he was raised in Arizona and California. After a series of unsuccessful farming ventures, his father became a surveyor and worked on road crews at the Grand Canyon and elsewhere in the Southwest. Pollock, who sometimes joined his father on these jobs, later remarked that memories of the panoramic landscape influenced his artistic vision.

While attending Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles, Pollock was encouraged to pursue his early interest in art. Two of his brothers, Charles and Sanford (known as Sande), were also developing as artists. Charles, the eldest, went to New York to study with the Regionalist painter Thomas Hart Benton at the Art Students League, and he suggested that Jackson should join him. In 1930 Pollock went east and enrolled in Benton's class at the League. It was at about this time that he dropped his first name, Paul, and began using his middle name.

Under Benton's guidance, Pollock analyzed Old Master paintings and learned the rudiments of drawing and composition. He also studied mural painting with Benton and posed for his teacher's 1930-31 murals at the New School for Social Research, where the Mexican muralist José Clemente Orozco was at work on frescoes. Pollock's first-hand experience of contemporary mural painting is thought to have sparked his ambition to paint large scale works of his own, although he would not realize that aim until 12 years later.

During the 1930s, Pollock's work reflected Benton's "American Scene" aesthetic, although enriched by a brooding, almost mystical quality reminiscent of the work of the visionary painter Albert Pinkham Ryder, whom Pollock admired. Orozco's influence also made itself felt, especially after Pollock saw his dynamic frescoes for Dartmouth College (1932-34).
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Going West ,c1934-38
Oil on Gesso on composition board, 15 1/8” x 20 7/8”
National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
Jackson and his father at the Grand Canyon