After a weekend with artist friends in East Hampton, Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner purchased a property that was to become both their haven and their hell.
When Lee Krasner pleaded with Jackson Pollock to move away from the city in the heat of the Manhattan Summer of 1945, he refused. But after a weekend with artist friends in East Hampton he reconsidered, and they purchased a property that was to become both their haven and their hell for the eleven years before Jackson’s death in 1956.
Just as winter’s teeth were beginning to bite, Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner moved to 830 Springs Fireplace Road, East Hampton with no heating, plumbing or hot water – and with no car. But the sea-change precipitated a dry period for Pollock from 1948-1950, and the production of some of the most important paintings of the 20th Century.
Shortly after their relocation Jackson threw himself into work fixing the house by opening up the downstairs living areas, painting the walls ‘New York loft’ style with lashings of white and setting up his first studio in a bedroom upstairs. The studio has two windows, the larger looking across the trees to the north and the other with a view of Accabonac Creek. Jackson began work on the ‘The Accabonac Creek Series’ which was followed by the ‘Sounds in the Grass Series’ – interpreting his experience of the natural surrounds through an abstract lens. The muffled white moodiness of deep winter, coupled with the healing effect of long walks by the creek or along the beach to Louse Point promoted a new phase in Jackson’s painting while the physical limitations of his tiny workspace affected the size of his paintings, many of them under a metre in length.
Soon after settling into their new home, Jackson began clearing out the barn and had it moved to the north edge of the property in order that the view down the hill was visible from the house. Jackson however, was adamant that he did not want the distraction of the outside view in his studio, and installed large panels of high windows on the eastern face, resulting in a diffused light upon the studio floor, where he preferred to paint.
The studio floor reveals the colors and gestures of almost every painting he did from 1947 to 1952, the year ‘Blue Poles’ was created, his last monumental abstract painting, bought by the National Gallery of Australia for a record price of 1.3 million Australian dollars, amid much controversy. There are splats, blobs, footprints and smudges and walking on it (albeit in the requisite foam booties) feels sacrilegious. When they could finally afford to winterize the space in 1953 the floor was covered with masonite boards, thus inadvertently preserving in a single room evidence of hours, days and weeks of some of Jackson’s most important work. The original floor was unveiled in 1987-88, after an accidental discovery years after Lee’s death.
The two-storey house, built in 1879, has three modest bedrooms, all upstairs. The interior of the house is decorated as it was left, with personal items, the original furniture and evidence of the minutiae of domestic life. Jackson and Lee loved beachcombing along the white windswept dunes of East Hampton, returning with shells and special objects, which are arranged with great care on shelving throughout the home. Downstairs in the living room hangs one of their favorite finds – a skinny, corroded anchor, which in some ways has come to symbolise their desire to put down new roots, to find stability and peace.
Next to Jackson’s studio is the main bedroom, which remains essentially intact. Initialed suitcases sit side-by-side along a wall to the right on which hangs a black and white portrait of Jackson crouching and serious with cigarette in hand. Above a large brown wicker rocking chair is a portrait of a young Lee painted by her former lover, Russian artist Igor Pantuhoff. The silver sequined dress that Krasner wore on the opening night of Pollock’s retrospective at MoMA in 1967 hangs from a yellowed foam coat-hanger and her silk dressing gown is splayed on the bed as though waiting.
The downstairs living areas are punctuated by Spider Plants that just refuse to die, and Jackson’s record player and jazz record collection is wedged beside their library of books, including ‘Bloomsbury Artists at Charleton’, Hans Christian Anderson’s ‘Fairy Tales’, and ‘Cecil Beaton’s Scrapbook’ amongst others.
Walking through Jackson Pollock’s and Lee Krasner’s house and studio is like walking through a visual diary – intimate, personal and revealing. Soon after Lee left Jackson in 1956 to travel abroad, he died in an accident in his green Oldsmobile, just a mile up Springs Fireplace Road. Lee returned to an empty house, a house that would never truly feel like home to her again.
BY Robyn Lea