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Exterior of Jackson Pollock's studio, Springs, East Hampton, NY. Photo courtesy of the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center
In the mid-1940s, Jackson Pollock wanted to get away from the temptations and stresses of New York City. Or perhaps his new bride, Lee Krasner, thought he needed to. They moved to a modest farmhouse in Springs, East Hampton, to live a quieter life. But then a funny thing happened.
Soon, the art crowd they’d left behind decided to get houses in the Hamptons, too. Pollock’s rivals, critics, drinking buddies, and hangers-on all plunked themselves down just a few miles away, as if the Cedar Tavern—New York’s main art hangout of that era—had been teleported en masse to the countryside. Great. What could be more restful than a small town full of all the petty jealousies and drunk enablers you left behind?
Even so, Pollock’s time in East Hampton was crucial to his development as an artist, and his surroundings might have been why. A modest barn behind the Pollock-Krasner house gave him the freedom to work on a large scale and create the “drip” paintings he’s most famous for. Pollock initially worked in a small bedroom in the house, but once he converted the barn into his studio, his paintings started getting bigger and freer. Interestingly, the same thing happened to Lee Krasner’s paintings when she took over the studio after Pollock’s death.
Unfortunately, the museum doesn’t have any of his large-scale paintings, though you can see a facsimile of one at the nearby Springs General Store. Pollock, perpetually broke, settled his grocery bill with a painting that now belongs to the Centre Pompidou in Paris. (Canadians can see Pollock’s important No. 29, 1950 at the National Gallery.)
What’s special about the Krasner-Pollock Study House is the astonishingly well-preserved studio. In the 1950s, Pollock renovated the building again, covering the original floor with tiles that unintentionally preserved the historic paint splashes underneath. Once conservators took up the tiles, you could see where Pollock had dripped and flung paint for some of his most iconic works, such as Autumn Rhythm, Convergence and Blue Poles. If you know Pollock’s work well, you can even tell, from the sharp demarcations, where in the room the individual paintings were done.
Visitors have to put on hospital-type booties to walk on the floor, which is almost a work of art in itself. A single fling of paint might have landed half on the canvas, half on the floor. One half is part of a multi-million-dollar painting in a museum. The other half? You’re walking on it.
The house itself is surprisingly humble for such a major artist (especially compared with the lavish Hamptons houses of contemporary art stars). Even when he and Krasner moved in, Pollock wasn’t a complete unknown. He was already exhibiting in Peggy Guggenheim’s gallery—indeed, she lent him the down payment for the house. And yet the place initially didn’t even have indoor plumbing.
Something about the Springs property must have inspired or sustained him. Even when he became mainstream-famous enough for the pages of LIFE magazine, Pollock never thought to trade up. So, even without any of his iconic paintings, the Pollock-Krasner house is a worthwhile destination.
The Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center in Springs, East Hampton, New York is open annually from May to October, Thursday to Saturday.
Lisa Hunter is a screenwriter and arts journalist in Montreal. Her book, The Intrepid Art Collector, was published by Three Rivers/Random House Canada.
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