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Lee Krasner

 (1908 - 1984)
Lee Lenore (Pollock) Krasner was active/lived in New York, Massachusetts.  Lee Krasner is known for abstract expressionist and gestural painting, collage.

Lee Krasner

    KRAZ-ner  speaker-click to hear pronunciation  click to hear

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for Lee Krasner
A major figure among 20th-century New York abstract painters, Lee Krasner became an acknowledged leader of the Abstract Expressionists. However, as the wife of Jackson Pollock, who emerged as the leading figure of that period, she was overshadowed by his accomplishments, and her reputation as an artist did not take hold until a decade after his death in 1956

Born into a strong matriarchal Russian Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York, Krasner was raised in a highly cultured environment. In the 1920s, she studied at Cooper Union, the Art Students League, and the National Academy of Design. From 1934 to 1943, she was a WPA mural painter and also became involved with radical art and politics. During much of this time, she was a mural assistant to Max Spivak, prominent abstract artist.

In 1937, she became a student of Hans Hofmann and then began exhibiting with the American Abstracts Artists, a group protesting the Social Realist movement led by Robert Henri. Like so many of her contemporaries, she felt that traditional representational art was too confining.

In the early 1940s, Krasner started working with Jackson Pollock and she, with sophisticated understanding of European modernism, was a major influence on his revolutionary style of gestural painting. The couple married in 1945 and lived on Long Island near East Hampton in a Victorian style home. She outlived him by over thirty years and came to be recognized as a major force in avant-garde American art. From 1945 to 1950, she worked on her Hieroglyph Series, and also spent much time promoting her husband's career. She also did many gestural paintings, and some think that she was a big influence on her husband utilizing this style, for which he is so famous.

As an artist, she worked in concentrated spells and then had times of waiting for inspiration to come. Much of her early work was either lost in a fire or cut-up by her for collages.

A retrospective of Krasner's painting was held at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art from October 10, 1999 to January 2, 2000 with more than 60 pieces. It also traveled to the Des Moines Art Center, the Akron Art Museum, and the Brooklyn Museum.

"American Women Artists" by Charlotte Streifer Rubinstein
Peter Falk, "Who Was Who in American Art"
Ellen Landau, "Lee Krasner"

Biography from Art Cellar Exchange
"Lee Krasner is one of the most significant painters of the 20th century--an artist whose importance is only now being seen." This prophetic statement made by art critic Barbara Rose in 1977 leaves the reader questioning: What is it that has made the work of Lee Krasner such an integral and irreplaceable chapter in the progression of American art?

Lee Krasner's place in American art can be qualified in many ways, including through her role as a forerunner of the first original American art movement, Abstract Expressionism. This style can be seen as a manifestation of the horror felt in the wake of WWII, a horror unique to most Americans. The calculated slaughter of innocent Jews, the use of the first weapon of mass destruction on the citizens of Japan, the first direct attack on US soil---these were all unprecedented events in the minds of most Americans. Emotions of helplessness and confusion overwhelmed these artists and created a state of mind that we can identify with today, in the wake of the tragedies of our own era.

While trying to come to grips with the ever-complex world, Abstract Expressionist artists found no form, no figure or landscape that could judiciously represent their sentiments. Only pure, unaltered paint and canvas, works stripped to their most basic elements could begin to express these inexpressible feelings. This revolutionary style came forth without the contamination of recognizable form.

Craftsmanship, attention to realistic detail and pleasant subject matter all became secondary to the most important element of the work: expression.

Lenore Krasner was never one to do what was expected. At an early age, she boldly announced that her goal in life was to become an artist and she never strayed from this idea. The defiant qualities of this young girl stayed with her as her work grew from various experimental periods to the abstract expressionist style that is now her signature.

It was these same traits that compelled her to push the accepted norms in every instance of her artistic career. She was not satisfied copying the plaster casts given to her in traditional art classes. She needed to be challenged, to be working in a more meaningful manner. In 1938, Krasner began studying with the infamous Hans Hofmann. It was during this period that "Nude Study from Life" was completed in a manner distinctly contrary to conventional drawing. Hofmann encouraged students to forsake the prosaic and soon found Krasner to be one of his best students.

"Nude Study from Life" demonstrates Krasner's curious and daring nature while hinting at revolutionary works to come. The heavy, slashing lines that compromise the figure vibrate with emotional intensity, an intensity that Krasner is able to maintain and utilize in later works such as "Meteor".

"Nude Study from Life" also demonstrates Krasner's keen spatial intuition, which is crucial to a successful non-representational work. Without recognizable subject matter as a crutch, the artist is forced to create harmonious spatial relationships with the forms on their canvas. The apparent ease with which Krasner has created successful interactions between line, plane and tone demonstrates her natural propensity towards abstract art, and her success in dealing with the difficulties of creating a cohesive abstract painting that are faced by every artist attempting to work in this manner.

Krasner's study of the figure in Hofmann's class surely became a factor in her later works that utilize bio-morphic forms, strongly suggesting a human origin. Elements of the human anatomy appear in works such as "Prophecy" (1956) and "Sun Woman"(1957). In "Prophecy" the long, slender forms are reminiscent of tangled arms and legs with two glaring eyes confronting the viewer and causing a sense of uneasiness that surely would have pleased the artist. "Sun Woman," completed during a happier time in Krasner's life, brings to mind singing cherubs whose plump, round bodies are much less menacing than the jagged, violent shapes of "Prophecy".

Through the use of flesh tones and abstracted human forms, both works seem to pay homage to earlier studies of the human body such as "Nude Study from Life".

Every artist has a period of experimentation, during which they are searching for their own creative voice. This period of work can be seen as the most crucial, as it points the direction that the rest of the artist's career will follow. This is indeed true of the work of Lee Krasner who she saw no purpose in keeping unsuccessful experiments and is known to have destroyed many of her early works.

Evident in the fact that it was never destroyed, one can surmise that Krasner too saw the importance that "Nude Study from Life" had as a predecessor of works to come. Early drawings such as this are crucial problem solving exercises that built the foundation on which Krasner's most powerful works stand. Krasner herself knew that no successful process ends at its apparent completion, but rather that all experiences will be revisited, changed and utilized at a later date.

She was fond of a particular quote of T.S. Elliot that exemplifies this thought:
"We shall not cease from exploration
And at the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know it for the first time

Krasner never stopped exploring and utilizing lessons from the past. Her life's work is an intricate balance of both her past and present, one that did not take any experience for granted. Her work is rich in experience, reflection and understanding. Barbara Rose said it best, Lee Krasner is indeed one of the most important painters of the 20th century.

The artwork of Lee Krasner is owned by The Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney Museum of American Art, The National Gallery of Art, The Smithsonian American Art Museum, The Solomon R Guggenheim Museum and many others. Most recently, a retrospective of sixty works, including this one, was held from Octobter of 1999 to January 2001. This exhibit began at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and traveled to the Des Moines Art Center, the Akron Art Museum, and ended at the Brooklyn Museum.

--Amy Kleppinger, Art Cellar Exchange,

Lee Krasner and the History of the Drip

Due to the enormous fame of Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollock, it is easy for the art connoisseur to believe "Jack the Dripper" was the originator of the drip painting. It is widely believed that Pollock invented the drip and that other expressionists, including Pollock's spouse Lee Krasner, were merely followers. When all evidence is examined, however, this is found to be untrue. Further, a case can certainly made that Pollock may have been following Krasner's lead rather then the other way around. Due to circumstances of her education and artistic influences, a convincing argument can be made that Kranser may indeed have worked first in the drip. In any case, working with dripped paint was certainly not something that either Pollock or Krasner came up with out of the blue. It was a method of painting that was touched upon by many previous artists, but perhaps not perfected until Krasner and Pollock explored this method to its ultimate depths.

There are many documented uses of a dripping technique previous to either Pollock or Krasner's work. As demonstrated in an exhibit at the Museum of Modern art in 1941, one surely seen by working artist's of the time, Native American craftsman had been creating designs by drizzling sand for centuries. Years later, in 1877, James Abbot McNeil Whistler was accused by infamous critic John Ruskin of "flinging a pot of paint in the public's face". In a painting titled "The Falling Rocket," Whistler used flecks of gold and red paint to look like fireworks, apparently a practice of which Ruskin did not approve. This work is surprisingly advanced in it's style and actually seems prophetic of later painting styles. Decades later, Max Ernst is known to have experimented with flinging paint onto canvas by punching holes in the bottom of a paint can and swinging it by a string. Lesser-known artist Janet Sobel was already working exclusively in the drip style in 1946, a year before Jackson Pollock was said to have "invented" the drip painting.

Before Abstract Expressionism, the movement in which the drip painting is known to have originated, there was Surrealism. It is widely acknowledged that many elements of Abstract Expressionism, were expanded principles of Surrealism. In these modern movements, conscious planning was abandoned and an emphasis was placed on expression, in the case of surrealists, subconscious expression. Pollock was surely aware of the practice of automatic drawing by Surrealists of the 1920's and 30's which by definition is the "use of brush or pencil, without rational control and thus at the prompting of the subconscious impulses." There could be no more accurate definition for what constitutes a drip painting. The drip style is nothing if not a process so free of conscious thought that it simply becomes a natural, effortless entity.

Perhaps most the most important evidence supporting the belief that Krasner may have been more pre-disposed to have "invented" the drip painting is that she was a pupil of Hans Hofmann while Pollock studied with Thomas Hart Benton. Hofmann was teaching in a non-representational manner and encouraged the kind of thinking that was more conducive to the development of Abstract Expressionism. Further evidence, in 1944 Hofmann completed "Effervescence" which was the predecessor of later drip paintings. As Krasner was extensively involved in all aspects of the New York art scene, and she remained in contact with Hofmann it is likely that she saw works like "Effervescence" and would have been exposed to the idea of working in this method. Pollock, on the other hand, studied under Thomas Hart Benton who was a major advocate of realism. Benton's work was highly figurative and in no way touched upon the painterly methods that were used by Abstract Expressionists.

When Pollock began working on his large dripped canvases in 1947, Krasner was simultaneously working on smaller pieces like "Untitled" (1947). These smaller, denser drip and splatter paintings demonstrate a technical ability that far surpassed anything that could have been accomplished by simply mimicking Pollock's work. They are evidence of independent exploration and discovery which cannot be learned or copied, but rather are innate in every true artist. Working in an abstract manner is not something which comes easily when forced, and those artist's who have the ability to create successful abstract paintings create works that seem effortless. Krasner clearly demonstrates her natural ability in her early drip paintings and in those that follow, although her work was not fully appreciated until the 1970's and 80's. Why she was not recognized earlier in her career seems to be evidence of the time in which she lived and worked. It is symptomatic of many talented artist's that their work was overshadowed by their male counterparts. It is only upon re-examination that it can be seen that not only was Krasner's work quite brilliant independent of Pollock's, but perhaps his was brilliant because of it.

--Amy Kleppinger, Art Cellar Exchange,

Biography from Hollis Taggart Galleries

Lee Krasner (1908-1984)

Never content to accept established guidelines or conventional ways of thought, Lee (Lenore) Krasner experimented continuously throughout her career. To advance her art Krasner drew on her immense intellect, lively debates with artists and critics, and her keen eye. A member of the first generation of Abstract Expressionist painters, Krasner's work was both in dialogue and critical of the work of her contemporaries, including her famous husband, Jackson Pollock.

Born to a Russian immigrant family living in Brooklyn on October 27, 1908, Krasner decided early on to pursue a career in the arts. Enrolling at the Cooper Union in 1926, the young artist struggled to find the appropriate artistic milieu to encourage her talent. Beginning in 1928, she studied for a brief time at the Art Students League, then at National Academy of Design from 1928-1932, and subsequently at City College in 1932-33, where she obtained a teaching certificate. However, the teachings of the influential artist Hans Hoffman at his renowned school in Greenwich Village had the greatest impact on Krasner's artistic development.

Krasner studied with Hofmann intermittently from 1937 to 1940. During these years her style changed from Surrealist-inspired paintings of the early-mid 1930s to abstract figural and still-life compositions that reveal an understanding of Cubist and Fauvist principles. Art historian Robert Hobbs singles out the artist's charcoal nude figure studies from this period. He writes: "Of far greater importance than her still-life paintings are the life drawings that Krasner made at the Hofmann School. In these works she quickly assimilated the rudiments of Cubism as well as Hofmann's emphasis on tensions achieved through the opposition of light and shadow, depth and flatness." (2)

However, Krasner did not always agree with Hofmann's teaching methods. Robert Hobbs reports how she became angered when Hofmann tore one of her drawings into quarters to make a point about compositional tension to his students.  It was perhaps not surprising that she later shortened her name to the androgynous moniker "Lee," perhaps in an attempt to combat institutional sexism. Remarks such as Hofmann's awkward compliment, when he announced to the class, "This [study] is so good you would not know that it was done by a woman," testified to the inherent biases lingering in the art world. Krasner's move was not uncommon for female artists of her ambition; other artist's of her generation, such as Grace (George) Hartigan and Michael (Corrinne) West, also adopted male first names. (3)

In the 1930s, Krasner became acquainted with Harold Rosenberg, who would become one of the most influential art critics of his generation. In 1934, Krasner was appointed to the Public Works of Art Project, and the following year she and Rosenberg were assigned to Max Spivak's mural project (for the Federal Art Project [FAP]).  Their positions—more as de-facto personal assistants than artistic collaborators on the project since Spivak preferred to work alone—allowed for ample conversations and lively debates about art, leftist politics, and intellectual developments. Rosenberg, an aspiring poet, introduced her to the work of Baudelaire and Arthur Rimbaud.  The French Symbolist poet Rimbaud provided a tremendous source of inspiration for the artist, particularly in his poem "A Season in Hell," which Krasner excerpted and inscribed on the wall of her studio in 1941.  
In 1940, Krasner joined the American Abstract Artists (AAA), a group dedicated to creating international abstract art whose slogan announced their aims "For Peace, for Democracy, For Cultural Progress." (4) Her participation in AAA exhibitions from 1940 to 1943, her outspoken attitude and involvement in protests organized by the Artists Union, and her affiliation with Hofmann's school increased her reputation in the early 1940s. She received a public mural commission for the New York radio station WNYC (which was never executed), and also participated in several group exhibitions. These included French and American Painting, a show organized by John Graham that opened in January 1942 at McMillen Inc. design studios.

French and American Painting marked the first occasion where Krasner and Pollock exhibited their work in the same show. Indeed, after receiving the offer to participate in the exhibition, Krasner visited Pollock's studio to introduce herself, not realizing that she had had met Pollock previously. In 1945, the couple both contributed paintings to A Problem for Critics at Howard Putzel's Gallery 67.  They were married later that year in an intimate ceremony in The Springs, Long Island, where they had purchased a farmhouse not far from the home of Harold Rosenberg and his wife May Tabak.

In 1946, Krasner launched her Little Image series. These paintings incorporated an all-over compositional technique using variously short dabs, dense webs of dripped paint, and grids of ciphers and hieroglyphic forms. The Little Image paintings were informed by Krasner's religious training as a child, when she learned Hebrew, and also by post-war Zionism.  More broadly, Krasner's calligraphic paintings revealed the artist's exploration of symbols and sign systems; she explained, "I thought of [my unconscious messages] as a kind of crazy writing of my own, sent by me to I don't know who, which I can't read, and I'm not so anxious to read." (5)

In 1953, Krasner began to destroy both Pollock's and her own work to generate small collages composed of the fragments of sliced canvases. The collages that resulted from this process of destruction and recombination displayed complex interlocking forms, realizing in both a material and visual way the tension of opposing forces encouraged by Hofmann years earlier.  These works also reveal the painter's appreciation for Matisse's lively color. Krasner combined the principles of Hoffman and Matisse with her admiration for Cubist drawing. 

Following Pollock's death in 1956, Krasner responded with a group of works called Earth Green. The series featured monumental painterly explosions addressing themes of renewal, such as harvest, fertility, and growth. Sometimes referred to as "autobiographical," these Abstract Expressionist figurative paintings often depict hybrid, gender-neutral personnages within carefully structured canvases that balance horizontal and vertical forces. In 1959 Krasner launched another series inspired by death. These works, referred to collectively as "Night Journeys" are part of her larger Umber series and are characterized by their limited palette of blacks, whites, ochres, and browns. Also distinctive are their mixed use of sprayed and spattered paint and the intense emotions they evoke. In 1958 Krasner also produced a large-scale mosaic for the Uris Building in New York utilizing some of the same forms as her collages.

In the mid-1970s, Krasner's work came full circle. After rediscovering several portfolios of the charcoal Nude Study from Life drawings in 1976, she saved (and likely signed and dated) those she wished to keep, giving some as gifts to friends and colleagues. The remaining drawings she cut into abstract forms and sliced and pasted these fragments onto large canvases. Painting on top of the collage, she titled the series, Eleven Ways to Use the Words to See. These works expressed the artist's interest in both Cubist design and Fauvist color, as well as her career-long engagement with drawing, painting, and collage.

That decade also witnessed the ascendancy of Krasner's national reputation. Her work was exhibited in several major exhibitions that celebrated the varied aspects of her oeuvre, including Lee Krasner: Large Paintings at the Whitney Museum of American Art, organized by Marcia Tucker, and the traveling show Lee Krasner: Collages and Works on Paper, 1933-1974 initiated by the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Two other important exhibitions were Krasner/Pollock: A Working Relationship, curated by Barbara Rose, and Lee Krasner: Works on Paper at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.  After suffering from arthritis and battling various illnesses since 1962, Krasner died in 1984.

1. Ellen G. Landau, Lee Krasner: Catalogue Raisonné (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1995).
2. Robert Hobbs, Lee Krasner (New York: Abbeville Press, 1993), 24.
3. Michael Cannell, "An Interview with Lee Krasner," Art Magazine 59, no.1 (September 1984), 88.
4. Robert Hobbs, Lee Krasner (New York: Independent Curators International, in association with Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1999), 53.
5.    Ibid, 72.

Biography from The Columbus Museum of Art, Georgia
Unfortunately for Lee Krasner, much of her reputation is based on her marriage to fellow artist and 20th century icon Jackson Pollock.  She is treated far too often as a spouse and not as a serious artist to be respected in her right, and frequently critics dismiss her work.  Traditionally trained at the Cooper Union and the National Academy for Design, Krasner struggled to find an identity for her art.  That struggle ceased until her tutelage under the noted theorist and teacher Hans Hofmann.  At Hofmann's school she discovered support and encouragement to experiment with abstraction, learning from European moderns such as the Cubists and Surrealists in order to surpass their movements. 

She became an integral part of American abstraction, formulating with others the success of a truly American art movement—Abstract Expressionism.  In fact, she existed as a key female abstract expressionist within a masculine world.  During an interview in 1984 Krasner was questioned about the machismo of abstract expressionists.  She replied, "It is quite clear that I didn't fit into it, although I never felt I didn't. I was not accepted; let me put it that way. What made things very possible for me were that Pollock, whom I lived with, respected, appreciated, and did not view my work this way.  However, that was just between us.  So then I got going on my merry way.  With relation to the group, if you are going to call them a group, there was no room for a woman."(1) 

Early in her studies Krasner explored portraiture, using herself as a model on several occasions.  She also developed through academic figure studies of the nude.  Some of her strongest early paintings focus on the still life and her use of its subject matter to progress through abstraction.  The figure itself remains omitted or absent from traditional representation in her work with the exception of some cubist figure studies, all of which are drawings.  Before her work evolved into unadulterated abstraction, paintings from the early 1940s reflect her control of subject matter, command of modernism, and experimentation to fuse elements into something new. Krasner explored the still life in a similar manner on at least fourteen canvases, most of which are untitled and all date from 1940 to 1943.  When asked about these paintings during an interview in 1970, Krasner replied, "The paintings I would have been showing in American Abstract Artists were abstract, Picassoid, with heavy black lines, brilliant intense colors, and thick impasto."(2)  Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque had already transformed still lifes, and it is Krasner's homage to their ideas of Cubism, as well as the influence of Piet Mondrian that she explored in this series.

1. Michael Cannell, "An Interview with Lee Krasner," Art Magazine 59, no.1 (September 1984), 88.
2. Barbara Rose interview with Krasner, March 1972. Quoted in Ellen G. Landau's Lee Krasner: A Catalogue Raisonné (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1995), 75.

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About  Lee Krasner

Born:  1908 - Brooklyn, New York
Died:   1984 - Springs, New York
Known for:  abstract expressionist and gestural painting, collage