by Judith Levine
Lee Krasner : Lenore "Lee" Krasner October 27, 1908 – June 19, 1984
Lee Krasner by Irving Penn
Lee Krasner is often thought of as Jackson Pollock’s wife and staunchest supporter. That is true, but Krasner was an accomplished artist in her own right. The only one of her siblings born in the US to immigrant Jewish parents, she grew up in Brooklyn, NYC. (1) “Her career as an artist began when she was a teenager. She specifically sought out enrollment at Washington Irving High School for Girls as they offered an art major. After graduating, she attended the Women's Art School of Cooper Union on a scholarship. There, she completed the course work required for a teaching certificate in art. Krasner pursued yet more art education at the National Academy of Design in 1928, completing her course load there in 1932.” (2) Unhappily, little work from her early years remains as much was destroyed in a fire. One that does is a self-portrait now belonging to Metropolitan Museum of Art. Her eventual move into abstraction can be seen even in this piece.
Self-Portrait-ca. 1929, Oil on canvas, 30 × 32 1/8 in. (76.2 × 81.6 cm)
After completing her education, of necessity during the Great Depression, she took a job with the WPA in 1934. It entailed enlarging others’ works for use in murals, etc. She hated it but because of the time, she remained there until 1943. She continued making works of her own. In 1937, she would attend the 8th Street atelier run by renowned German cubist artist Hans Hoffmann; it was a major turning point in her life and work. “...already an established figure in the local art scene, met her future husband [Pollock] at a 1941 exhibition where both had works on view. The pair married in October 1945 and soon moved to a rural East Hampton farmhouse where they could better focus on their craft. While Pollock was busy creating his characteristic panoramic drip paintings, she was focused on producing her kaleidoscopic canvases.” (3)
She spent a good deal of her marriage supporting and encouraging Pollock’s work and her own became subsumed in many ways. The public saw her as Pollock’s wife and seemed to forget that she was just as talented. Only after their separation and his death would she put the same energy in to promoting her own incredible work. Unfortunately, the image of her as Jackson’s wife was so deeply embedded in the public’s mind, she was basically ignored. It didn’t matter to Krasner who just kept on painting and making collage works and mosaics, even using pieces of older work to make them.
Desert Moon, 1955 Icarus, 1964
Krasner would have only one major retrospective during her life, Lee Krasner: Living Colour at the Barbican. London’s “Barbican is displaying the first major presentation of her work in Europe in over 50 years, with nearly 100 paintings on view for the first time in the UK. This brilliant retrospective shines a much-needed light on Krasner’s work,...” (4) Finally someone said it out loud. “Unfairly associating Krasner with Pollock and finding Krasner wanting is a bad old habit. Let’s have no more of it... Krasner... knew many things. She was a synthesizer. She welded gesture to color, Matisse to Picasso, expression to decoration and figuration to abstraction. She combined aggressively fractured forms with rounded stability. She found astonishing ways to marry centrifugal energy to lashed-together, locked-down forms.” (5)
It is finally Lee Krasner’s time to shine. Her brilliance is now out from under a husband’s long shadow. Krasner’s work influenced many of her contemporaries. Let her now influence yet another generation of artists to be bold, seek out what is most important to them and let it be seen in every work. Gender is not a bar to excellence in art anymore.
- Biography.com, 4/12/19
- Rose, Barbara. Lee Krasner: A Retrospective. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1983. pg. 13
- Meilan Solly, Smithsonian Magazine, 5/ 2019
- Lee Krasner: Living Colour at the Barbican, Antonia Cunliffe, That’s Not My Age, 5/ 21/ 2019
- Sebastian Smee, The Washington Post, 5/1/ 2020