Lee Krasner. Untitled. 1964. Felt-tip pen, pastel, and acrylic on paper, 22 1/4 × 30 3/8" (56.5 × 77.2 cm). Acquired with matching funds from an anonymous donor and the National Endowment for the Arts. © 2022 Pollock-Krasner Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: John Wronn

“I like a canvas to breathe and be alive. Be alive is the point.”

Lee Krasner

Lee Krasner was a force of nature, always pushing abstraction forward. Her work over 50 years suggests perpetual, restless reinvention, encompassing portraits, Cubist drawings, collage, assemblage, and large-scale abstract painting. A pioneer of Abstract Expressionism, she was also one of the key crusaders for Jackson Pollock’s legacy. As the art historian Helen Harrison, now the director of the Pollock-Krasner House in Springs, NY, once wrote, Krasner “squeezed the juice out of her imagery.”1

Krasner was born in 1908, to Russian-Jewish refugees in Brooklyn. She always wanted to study and make art, and attended the Women’s Art School at Cooper Union and the National Academy of Design. When The Museum of Modern Art opened in 1929, Krasner said, “It was like a bomb that exploded…nothing else ever hit me that hard, until I saw Pollock’s work.”2 She became a mural painter for the Works Progress Administration, the Depression-era public art project, and an arts activist. In 1937, she studied with the influential teacher and artist Hans Hofmann and joined the American Abstract Artists group; she went dancing to jazz with Piet Mondrian. In many ways, she was at the center of the burgeoning New York art world. As one dealer remarked, Krasner “knew more about painting than anyone in the United States, except John Graham.”3

It was the artist Graham who brought Krasner and Jackson Pollock together. In 1942, both were included in his major exhibition French and American Painting at an antique furniture store in midtown New York. Krasner was inspired to knock on Pollock’s apartment door to check out his work. It was the start of a tempestuous relationship that would be a central and at times eclipsing presence in her own career.

Krasner introduced Pollock to many artists and gallerists, including Willem de Kooning, Hans Hoffman, and Sidney Janis, and most importantly to the art critic Clement Greenberg, who became a champion of Pollock’s work. In 1945, Krasner and Pollock married and moved out to Springs, East Hampton, on the East End of Long Island, to get away from the city scene. (Pollock was already suffering from debilitating alcoholism.) There they clammed, rode bikes, and painted. Krasner, working in her upstairs bedroom studio, began her breakthrough Little Images series—its canvases small enough to fit on a bedside table—and made mosaiced tabletops. She imagined the dense compositions of her Little Images as unreadable hieroglyphics, thick with paint sometimes applied directly from the tube. Krasner also began working on collages—using paper and scraps from canvases she and Pollock had discarded—that demonstrated her admiration for Henri Matisse.

In 1956, while Krasner was in Europe, Pollock died in a car crash. A year later, Krasner moved into the barn studio that Pollock had used on their property, and the scale and energy of her paintings expanded. Nature became an immersive theme: The Seasons (1957) stretched 17 feet wide, and Gaea (1966), after the Greek earth goddess, shows her moving toward broad swaths of color and rhythm. In 1965, she had her first solo exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery in London, and in 1975, at the Whitney Museum of American Art. She died in 1984, just a few months before her retrospective opened at MoMA.

Note: opening quote is from oral history interview with Lee Krasner, 1964, Nov. 2, 1968–Apr. 11. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. https://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/interviews/oral-history-interview-lee-krasner-12507.

Prudence Peiffer, Managing Editor, Creative Team

The research for this text was supported by a generous grant from The Modern Women's Fund.

  1. https://www.nytimes.com/1988/08/07/nyregion/art-lee-krasner-emerges.html

  2. Mary Gabriel, Ninth Street Women: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler: Five Painters and the Movement that Changed Modern Art (New York: Little Brown & Company, 2018), 26.

  3. Gabriel, 113.

Wikipedia entry
Introduction
Lenore "Lee" Krasner (born Lena Krassner; October 27, 1908 – June 19, 1984) was an American painter and visual artist active primarily in New York whose work has been associated with the Abstract Expressionist movement. She received her early academic training at the Women's Art School of Cooper Union, and the National Academy of Design from 1928 to 1932. Krasner's exposure to Post-Impressionism at the newly opened Museum of Modern Art in 1929 led to a sustained interest in modern art. In 1937, she enrolled in classes taught by Hans Hofmann, which led her to integrate influences of Cubism into her paintings. During the Great Depression, Krasner joined the Works Progress Administration's Federal Art Project, transitioning to war propaganda artworks during the War Services era. By the 1940s, Krasner was an established figure among the American abstract artists of the New York School, with a network including painters such as Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko. However, Krasner's career was often overshadowed by that of her husband, Jackson Pollock, whom she married in 1945. Their life was marred by Pollock's infidelity and alcoholism, while his untimely death in a drunk-driving accident in 1956 had a deep emotional impact on Krasner. The late 1950s to the early 1960s in Krasner's work were characterized by a more expressive and gestural style. In her later years, she received broader artistic and commercial recognition and shifted toward large horizontal paintings marked by hard-edge lines and bright contrasting colors. During her life, Krasner received numerous honorary degrees, including Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts from Stony Brook University. Following Krasner's death in 1984, critic Robert Hughes described her as "the Mother Courage of Abstract Expressionism" and a posthumous retrospective exhibition of her work was held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center in Springs, New York and the Pollock-Krasner Foundation were established to preserve the work and cultural influence of her and her husband. The latter has since focused on supporting new artists and art historical scholarship in American art.
Wikidata
Q237959
Information from Wikipedia, made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License
Getty record
Nationality
American
Gender
Female
Roles
Artist, Painter
Names
Lee Krasner, Lee Pollock, Mrs. Jackson Pollock, Lenore Krasner, Lee Pollock Krasner, Lenore Krassner, Lee Krasner Pollock
Ulan
500010144
Information from Getty’s Union List of Artist Names ® (ULAN), made available under the ODC Attribution License

Works

12 works online

Exhibitions

Publications

  • Abstract Expressionism at The Museum of Modern Art Exhibition catalogue, Hardcover, 128 pages
  • Modern Women: Women Artists at The Museum of Modern Art Hardcover, 512 pages
  • Lee Krasner: A Retrospective Exhibition catalogue, Paperback, pages
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