In the spring of 1955, when the young B.H. Friedman met Jackson Pollock for the first time, he was already an “old master” of Abstract Expressionism. With his powerful physique and explosive talent, Pollock had gained international fame through a body of work that encompassed a vast range of expression, from delicate lyricism to fierce, violent imagery. Recently extolled by Life magazine as the greatest painter in America, he was revered every night at Cedar Tavern by a throng of young artists who elbowed their way through to get nearer to the great painter. For them, Jackson was the one who had broken the ice, clearing the way for the first radically American generation. On the other hand, for the regulars of the legendary Greenwich Village meeting place, Pollock was no more than a picturesque character known for his disturbing metamorphoses: in the grip of alcohol, his voice grew hoarse, his vocabulary more vulgar, his gestures more aggressive and his expression clouded, all culminating the inevitable outbreak of a fight.
This book, which grew out of a friendship begun in Pollock’s last year of life, follows the artist’s brief trajectory with extraordinary vividness, without glossing over the moments of greatest suffering: the struggles of Pollock’s formative years, his use of alcohol to calm his soul, and his first academic works created under the supervision of Thomas H. Benton. Eventually, with the discovery of “dripping”, his own very personal language, he attained the peak of success, not least thanks to the courage of gallery owner Peggy Guggenheim and the unconditional support of his wife Lee Krasner, who remained beside him until the last months before his tragic death.
Friedman penetrates the silence and solitude of Pollock’s studio. He examines the artist’s tormented relationship with fame and his belief that he had sold his identity to an art world that rarely understood him and carried him to dizzying heights from which one rarely returns unharmed. The result is a biography that offers a consummate, insightful analysis of the glorious ascent and ruinous fall of the artist who “danced” masterpieces such as Autumn Rhythm into being – an artist who staked everything on his interpretation of art as the discovery of oneself, firmly convinced that a man’s life and his work are inseparable.