Blind contour drawing #3 – “Listen” 1957 Lee Krasner
Lee Krasner had a career in art that lasted 55 years.
Krasner’s spunk was evident early in her life. As a teenager, she decided to become an artist, which was a daring choice for a young immigrant woman. She was accepted to the Washington Irving High School, the only New York City public high school at the time that allowed women to study art.
She continued to study art in post secondary first at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Art and Science in 1926, and then at the Art Students League. Later at the prestigious National Academy of Design, it has been noted that her conservative teachers often reprimanded her for her independence, something they thought unsuitable for a woman. She studied to obtain a teaching certificate which was the only approved career path for a woman in the arts at the time. During her schooling, Krasner’s work ranged from realistic self-portraiture to surrealist experimentation. She supported herself by working in a factory, as a waitress, and also as an artist’s model.
She was lucky to get work as an artist in the Works Progress Administration of the Federal Art Project (WPA/FAP). This was a visual arts program within Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal (1933-43). These projects were ground breaking in the U.S. as it was the first time that many women artists received financial support to work. She quickly advanced to a supervisor role as an assistant on large public murals. Jackson Pollack served as one of her assistants during this period.
Krasner felt more at ease in more bohemian art circles during the 1930s and, like many of her peers, was drawn to Marxism. She studied with artist and theorist, Hans Hofmann who introduced her to the work of Picasso and Matisse. At this time, she began to explore an “all-over” style abstracting floral motifs and creating repetitive designs. Hofmann gave her a the backhanded compliment that her work was so good “you would not know it was made by a woman artist.”
Krasner became a founding member of the American Abstract Artists, a group formed in New York City in 1936 to promote and help the public appreciate abstract art.
In 1942, Krasner met Pollack, she visited his studio before an exhibit that they were part of and she subsequently introduced him to the New York art scene. The pair married in 1945 and she took on the duties of promoting and managing Pollack’s career.
There is so much controversy about Krasner’s life. Did she put her career on hold to support her husband? How much did she influence him? Was her career sabotaged because of his? I’ve read and listened to some of her interviews about her life as an artist and her life as Jackson Pollack’s wife and I can’t help but conclude that this intelligent and creative woman made choices that felt right to her at the time. She never stopped creating during her 11-year marriage to Pollock. Of course she had to deal with his alcoholism and womanizing but I feel that she truly admired and supported his work as an artist.
They moved from Manhattan to the Springs, Long Island in the late 1940s where they set up Pollack in an old barn. She worked in a room upstairs in their home and created her Little Image series. She painted left to write like Hebrew writing in an attempt to reconnect to her Jewish heritage and her subconscious. She also began to experiment with collage, a technique that one of idols, Matisse used later in his life. In fact, she once tore up a bunch of her paintings because she was frustrated with the work and then later reassembled them producing a large body of work that was well received in a 1955 exhibition.
After Pollack’s death, she lived in the shadow of his almost pop-star fame. Critics were harsh with her new larger scale (because she had moved out to work in the big barn) expressionist works labeling them too reminiscent of Pollack’s or too decorative meaning too feminine.
Her later work was finally recognized in a retrospective in 1983 at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts in Texas but because of her poor health she was unable to attend the opening and died before the show reached its final stop at MOMA in New York.
Even though she struggled against the hyper masculine attitudes of the Abstract Expressionist movement, Krasner was a prominent figure within it. Her extensive training in art theory, her skill and versatility drew connections between the early-twentieth-century art and the new ideas of postwar America. She helped devise the “all-over” technique, which influenced Pollack’s drip painting.
Thanks to her generosity, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation has awarded over 46 million dollars in grants to working artists around the world.
Krasner constantly pushed herself and reinvented her style through out her career. She was “rediscovered” by feminist art historians during the 1970s and thankfully lived to see a greater recognition of her art.
“I happened to be Mrs. Jackson Pollock and that’s a mouthful. I was a woman, Jewish, a widow, a damn good painter, thank you, and a little too independent.”
Born: October 27, 1908 – Brooklyn, New York
Died: June 19, 1984 – Queens, New York