American Letters: 1927-1947
April 2011, Polity
These letters - many of which are published for the first time in this volume - show that the Pollock brothers took a keen and early interest in art and politics. Their interest in painting was stimulated in part by Thomas Hart Benton, then a teacher at the Art Students League in New York, whose passion and commitment was to influence them profoundly. Jackson followed his oldest brother Charles to New York to study with Benton. While Charles subscribed to many of his mentor's left-wing beliefs and remained determined to bring art and social justice together, Jackson was far less committed to this ideal - he enjoyed life and traveled across America, hitting the open road and jumping from train to train, finding himself thrown out of school and even ending up in prison for a day, prodded on by his pronounced mystical leanings to search for his own way to express his artistic intuitions.
Through this vivid, lively and often moving correspondence from an atypical yet very American family, we catch a novel glimpse of Jackson Pollock the man, as well as of the various artistic schools and debates that established what has now become modern art.
This remarkable volume will be enjoyed by anyone interested in Jackson Pollock and modern art, as well as anyone interested in twentieth-century America. The volume includes original works of art by Charles Pollock and an Introduction by Michael Leja, an expert on Abstract Expressionism and the work of Jackson Pollock.
Notes on Text.
The Pollock Brothers.
Introduction by Michael Leja.
- This book contains the previously unpublished correspondence between Jackson Pollock - the great American artist who revolutionized 20th century art - and the members of his family in the period between the late 1920s and the late 1940s.
- The letters provide a rich and detailed portrait of the influences that shaped one of America’s most influential artists and they show that the Pollock brothers took an early interest in two major themes - art and politics.
- The letters also offer a unique view of America itself during one of the most momentous periods of its history, as it deals with the Great Depression and its aftermath and becomes embroiled in the Second World War.
- The book includes original works of art by Charles Pollock and a new Introduction, specially commissioned for the Polity edition, by Michael Leja, a leading expert on abstract expressionism and the work of Jackson Pollock.
The Daily Mirror
"American Letters: 1927-1947 shows just how varied the
American dream really was (and is) for those born without the
silver spoon...[it] is a great book because of the calm and humane
way it reveals from the inside the struggle of ordinary, talented
people to make their lives better and culturally enriched (and how
we should never lost sight of that), but also because it highlights
the world out of which a great artist such as Pollock was
Sunday Business Post
"Reflects the mix of bust and boom, fraught activism and
disenchantment with Socialist art that American abstraction grew
The Daily Telegraph
"It would be hard to match the book as an account of this
unusual family in its own varied voices, grounded in the larger
struggles of the Depression, the shifting, sometimes dumbfounding
politics of the Communist Left, the travails of an indispensable
government arts programme, and the dilemmas of one driven artist
who would take, it seemed, forever to find his way."
Times Literary Supplement
"American Letters lets correspondence narrate two arduous
decades, making us keenly aware of the way the five Pollock
brothers were deeply supportive of one another during an era when
mere survival wasn't always easy."
"Their descriptions of current events, anxieties about
employment, and their shifting (and sometimes conflicting)
political views offer vivid details about the general environment
in which Jackson was living and working during this period ... The
letters also introduce a warmth and affection that offsets
assertions by past biographers of resentful and estranged
relationships within the Pollock family."
The Art Newspaper
"Though American Letters's value is not limited to
Pollock scholarship, its most profound achievement is that it
provides an unabashed view of the intellect behind the work. By
giving us new evidence of Jackson Pollock's own voice, American
Letters achieves both, to offer an important new source for
understanding his struggles and genuine search for meaning in life
and art, as well as to (what Charles Pollock called) 'keep the
"The letters with which the scattered family kept in touch
across the US provide a vivid account of the lived experience of
thoughtful people over two turbulent decades."
"A fascinating volume that sheds light in particular on the
Depression years in the US and some of the intellectual and
artistic trends that emerged during that harsh era."
World Socialist Web Site
"American Letters is no doubt intriguing for the
artistically and politically inclined. Regardless of personal
interests, however, the book presents five lives lived with
self-reflection and cultural cognizance. The 21st century has
fostered a world of expedience in which it is easy to forgo
inconvenient communication. American Letters illuminates the
importance of thoughtful interrelations, telling a classic American
story along the way."
The Martha's Vineyard Times
"Bears witness to the hardscrabble reality of the artist's
upbringing amid boxcars and barren homesteads - the incubator of
his creative vision."
Wall Street Journal
"This extraordinary book is more than a fascinating collection
of family stories - though it is surely that. It also casts
unprecedented light on the young Jackson Pollock, and on the
intersections between politics and the arts in
Jackson Lears, Editor, RARITAN
"Spanning the years from 1927 to 1947, these letters between
members of the Pollock family, along with some notable figures from
the period, bring the Depression and war years vividly to life.
This book is of interest not only for scholars of Pollock, but for
anyone curious about the material, social, and political realities
of the Depression and war years - it is an utterly compelling
chronicle of private lives and public events. We find here the soil
which nourished Pollock's art, as well as a great deal more about
the emotional and political grounding of this great painter."
Angela L. Miller, Washington University in St. Louis
"These letters are extraordinary, not only because of the events
to which they so pointedly bear witness or the remarkable bond they
manifest between all the members of this family, scattered as they
are across the US while in search of a job, but for the relentless
cultural and artistic aspirations of their authors throughout times
of extreme financial distress. There are moments of anger, or
despair at the political situation, but overall it is a shared
conviction that the world could be made a better place both by art
and by political activism, or by the joining of the two, that lies
at the core of this amazingly rich correspondence. This vast trove
gives us a detailed picture of what it was to be an aspiring artist
in poverty-stricken America during the 1930s. It should be a
must-read for anyone interested in the socio-political context from
which American modernism emerged."
Yve-Alain Bois, Institute for Advanced Study, New Jersey