Childhood & Early Life
Born Lena Krassner on October 27, 1908, in Brooklyn, New York, USA, Lee was the fourth of the five children of Chane (née Weiss) and Joseph Krasner. Her Russian-Jewish parents were originally from Shpykiv (located in present-day Ukraine). One of her siblings was a sister named Ruth.
Krasner always had aspirations of becoming an artist. She attended Washington Irving High School for Girls and did an art major there. She then enrolled at the Women's Art School of Cooper Union on a scholarship. Later, she joined the National Academy of Design, graduating in 1932.
In 1928, she attended the Art Students League of New York, where she was taught by George Bridgman. In 1937, she joined a class ran by Hans Hofmann, who helped her in updating her methods of painting nude and still life.
During this period, she worked as a waitress, but due to the Great Depression, she was unable to sustain herself. As a result, she decided to become part of the Works Progress Administration's Federal Art Project in 1935, where her duties included creating larger versions of other artists’ designs.
Between the late 1930s and early 1940s, she made gouache sketches intending to create an abstract mural. Immediately after her proposal for a mural was authorised for the WYNC radio station, the Works Progress Administration was transformed into War Services. This meant that the art produced by the organization would be used for war propaganda.
Lee Krasner was one of the most devoted members of the Artists Union until she came to believe that the communists were taking control of it and quit.
In 1940, she became part of the American Abstract Artists. This concluded her life as a student. During the years she was associated with the American Abstract Artists, the paintings she generally displayed in exhibitions were cubist still life in a black-gridded cloisonne style that was almost excessively impastoed and gestural.
Lee Krasner ultimately became disinterested in hard-edge geometric style following her relationship with Pollock.
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Lee Krasner is considered an abstract expressionist because of her abstract, gestural, and expressive works. She made paintings, collage paintings, charcoal drawings, and even mosaics.
Often, she would cut out pieces from her own paintings and make collages with them. She also had the tendency of regularly changing and sometimes purging an entire series of her works as they did not satisfy her own critical nature. Because of this, only a limited few of her works currently exist.
In 1946, she started painting her “Little Image” series. She made about 40 of these works until 1949. They are divided into three categories in accordance with the style of the image: mosaic, webbed, and hieroglyphs.
Lee Krasner used the thick build-up of paint to make the mosaic images. The webbed ones, on the other hand, were created by drip technique, which, according to many critics, was inspired by Pollock’s chaotic paint splatters. Her hieroglyph paintings were done through a grid framework and appear like an incomprehensible, personal script.
She had begun working on her first series of collage paintings in 1951. In order to make these images, she used cut and torn shapes to decorate all but two images of the large-scale colour field paintings she displayed at the Betty Parson's exhibition in 1951. This period is distinguished in her career due to the fact that she was not creating art on an easel.
Between 1951 and 1953, the majority of her works were created from ripped drawings done in black ink or wash in a figurative method. During the summer of 1956, she ventured into creating the “Earth Green” series. Although she began making these paintings prior to Pollock’s passing, they nonetheless mirrored the anger, guilt, pain, loss and all other emotions that she endured right before and after his death.
By 1957, her work had undergone certain drastic changes. While she still made paintings involving figurative abstract forms, she had shifted her focus to floral elements from anatomical. She also experimented with brighter colours, diluted paint, and dry brushes. From 1959 to 1961, she painted the “Umber Series” while dealing with insomnia.
In the 1960s, she worked on the “Primary Series.” In 1963, after having an aneurysm, she fell, and her right wrist was splintered. Being right-handed, she used that wrist to paint. Lee Krasner subsequently taught herself how to paint with her non-dominant hand.
In the later part of the decade, critics started re-examining her work as an artist and painter who had a significant effect on Pollock and Clement Greenberg because of the advancement of feminist views.
In 1969, she became interested in making works on paper with gouache and gave them names like Earth, Water, Seed, and Hieroglyphics. In appearance, they were similar to a Rorschach test.
In the 1960s and 1970s, she was drawn to postmodern art, and her works from this period reflect that. She began making her second series of collage images in 1976, and they were displayed at the Pace Gallery a year later, garnering positive reviews.
Family & Personal Life
Lee Krasner and Pollock began dating in 1942 after both of their works were displayed at the McMillen Gallery. By 1945, the couple had relocated to The Springs on the outskirts of East Hampton. They exchanged wedding vows in the summer of that year and subsequently resided in the farmhouse in The Springs.
They were both active as artists, working in their respective studios. When they were not creating art, they would cook, bake, maintain a garden, clean their house, and host their friends.
By 1956, the couple had started encountering multiple relationship issues. Pollock had a drinking problem and was cheating on Krasner with artist Ruth Kligman. Krasner departed to spend time with her friends in Europe in summer. However, she had to abruptly come back after Pollock was killed in a vehicular accident in August 1956.
Death & Legacy
On June 19, 1984, Lee Krasner passed away of natural causes in New York City. She was 75 years old at the time and had arthritis. She is interred at Green River Cemetery, the Springs.
The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City hosted a retrospective exhibition of her paintings six months after her passing. Her works sell for millions of US dollars these days.
In 2000, Marcia Gay Harden played her in the biopic ‘Pollock’. The film was directed by Ed Harris, who also portrayed the titular character. For her performance, Harden won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.