Paul Jackson Pollock was born in Cody, Wyoming, on January 28, 1912. His mother was born Stella Mae McClure to “hardshelled” Presbyterian parents in the small town of Tingley, Iowa. His father’s original name was LeRoy McCoy. His ancestors had settled in Pennsylvania, which LeRoy’s parents left to move west in the 1850’s. Hardship and disaster overtook the McCoys, and after LeRoy’s mother and sister died of tuberculosis, the three-year-old LeRoy ended up living with James and Lizzie Pollock and took their name. LeRoy and Stella’s first child, Charles Cecil, was born without their parents’ knowledge before they were married, and the young couple headed west with their baby, stopping to get married in Alliance, Nebraska. They soon settled into the rigors of rural life in Cody.
There LeRoy worked as a stonemason and cement worker to Support a family that soon included four more sons: Marvin Jay, Frank Leslie, Sanford Leroy, and Paul Jackson. Ten months after Jackson’s birth, the Pollocks packed up and moved to San Diego, California, the first of many moves the restless Stella would impose upon LeRoy and the boys. Less than a year later, in August, 1913, they moved again, this time to Phoenix, Arizona, where LeRoy bought a truck farm.
The Phoenix move was the prelude to a series of transplantations instigated by Stella: to Chico, California, in 1917, and then on to the small California towns of Janesville and Orland before returning to another farm in Phoenix in 1923. A year later, they were back in Chico, finally settling that same year in Riverside, near Los Angeles. By that time LeRoy had left the family to work in road construction jobs until his death in 1933.
Jackson’s interest in art was stimulated in 1922 when his brother Charles sent home copies of The Dial and The American Mercury from Los Angeles, where he was working for the Los Angeles Times and studying at the Otis Art Institute. Four years later, Charles was in New York City taking classes at the Art Students League and studying with Thomas Hart Benton. After spending the summer of 1927 working, with his brother Sanford (or Sande) as a surveyor in the Grand Canyon, Jackson entered Riverside High School, only to be expelled the following March. When Stella moved the family to Los Angeles that summer, Jackson enrolled at Manual Arts High School. Jackson’s studies there were crucial, for it is there that he met two talented art students, Philip Guston and Manuel Tolegian, and, most important, the eccentric art teacher, Frederick John de St. Vrain, who involved him in Theosophical study. He was expelled from school in his first year, however, spent the summer of 1929 working on a road crew with his father, returned to Manual Arts that fall to study life drawing and clay modeling, and was expelled once more.
Jackson was allowed to return to Manual in the spring of 1930, but only as a part-time student. He became an admirer of the Mexican muralists at about this time, especially after seeing Jose’ Clemente Orozco’s fresco Prometheus at Pomona College. In the fall Jackson made a big decision. He went to New York with his brothers Charles and Frank, dropped the name Paul to go by Jackson, and enrolled in Thomas Hart Benton’s class at the Art Students League.
Jackson’s life in New York would prove to be a hectic struggle with alcohol and insecurity even as he secured a reputation as an artist. His association with Thomas Hart Benton was an important part of his new life in the East. Not only was he Benton’s student, but he also became a more or less regular fixture in the Bentons’ home. Rita Benton looked out for Pollock, flirted with him, fed him spaghetti suppers, and finally had to reject his overtures of love. Pollock was a willing baby-sitter for the Benton’s young son, telling him stories about the imaginary character Jack Sass. Benton organized an informal musical group, the Harmonica Rascals, to which Pollock belonged despite his meager musical talents. The Bentons took him to Provincetown with them during their rather Bohemian summers of nude bathing and alcoholic socializing. One summer Pollock arrived unexpectedly, rented a bicycle, got drunk, harassed a girl on the road, and had to be rescued by the Bentons from the local jail.
The Provincetown episode was typical of Pollock’s behavior whenever he felt abandoned and insecure, and it was held in check mostly by the care of his loyal brothers, especially Sande, and concerned surrogate mothers like Helen Marot and Dr. Violet Staub de Laszlo. Pollock first met Helen Marot in 1934 when he and Sande worked as janitors at the City and Country School in New York. Marot provided valuable emotional support for Pollock until her sudden death in 1940, which precipitated a protracted bout of self-destructive drinking by Pollock. At the time of Marot’s death, Pollock had been consulting the Jungian psychologist Dr. Joseph L. Henderson, who found Jungian archetypes in Pollock’s paintings...
(The entire section is 2056 words.)