Once nearly lost in the shadow of a celebrated American artist, a woman from Brooklyn is increasingly seen as a leader in abstract expressionism.
Among the giants of 20th century American Art, few combined as much fame and notoriety, praise and confusion as Jackson Pollock. Born in Wyoming in 1912 he moved to New York in 1930 and initially studied art under famed regionalist painter Thomas Hart Benton. Soon, however, Pollock struck out on his own, determined as all great artists are, to make his own style and come out from under the shadow of anyone else. Soon Pollock was casting his own shadow, and shadows tend to obscure things.
In 1942, years before his big breakthrough, Pollock met artist Lee Krasner at a gallery where they both had paintings showing and three years later they were married. A month after that they moved out of New York City to the far end of Long Island where Pollock later created his famous drip paintings. Her career as an artist quickly became eclipsed by his growing celebrity.
Lenore Krasner was born in Brooklyn in 1908 and from an early age wanted to paint. After high school, she studied art at the Cooper Union, the National Academy of Design, the Art Students League of New York, and finally studied under Hans Hoffman, a giant in the world of Modernist painting.
In 1956 at age 44, Jackson Pollock was killed in a car wreck. For a while after her husband’s death Krasner disappeared from the public spotlight though she continued to paint. Later in the 1960s critics began viewing her relationship with Pollock slightly differently. It was Krasner, they pointed out, who had introduced Pollock to many gallery owners and dealers. More important than that perhaps, some scholars said that it was Krasner who introduced him to the complex tenets of modernism in general with which he then broke free of Thomas Hart Benton’s influence. Gallery owner John Bernard Myers said that “there would never have been a Jackson Pollock without a Lee Pollock.”
Last May at Sotheby’s in New York, her painting The Eye is the First Circle sold for $11.7 million, a record price for her work. Currently there’s a wonderful exhibit of her paintings entitled “Lee Krasner: Living Color” that’s touring several museums in Europe. Alas, it isn’t scheduled to come to the United States, which is a shame. Around here, the Dallas Museum of Art has two Krasner’s in its permanent collection though neither is currently on view. That’s the case with the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, too. The Fort Worth Modern lists no Krasner’s in its holdings.
She was a visionary painter before and after her connection with Pollock and deserves to rank not beneath him in the pantheon of American abstract expressionism but alongside him. Seeing her paintings makes this abundantly clear. The problem has been that Pollock’s paintings are so much more famous than hers that the public doesn’t see them as much.
But exhibits such as the one currently traveling prove that that could change.