Jackson Pollock was born in Cody, Wyoming. Throughout his childhood, his family lived on a succession of truck farms in Arizona and southern California. When he was sixteen, Pollock first studied art at Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles, where he met Philip Guston and Reuben Kadish, two friends who later became artists.
In 1930, at age eighteen, Pollock moved from Los Angeles to New York City, settling in Greenwich Village. He immediately enrolled at the Art Students League, where he studied drawing and painting for five semesters with the American Regionalist painter Thomas Hart Benton, who soon became his mentor and friend.
In 1936 Pollock joined the Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros's Experimental Workshop, in New York, where he became aware of unorthodox mediums and techniques that he later adapted in his large drip paintings. In the late 1930s Pollock worked for the Easel Division of the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration.
From 1942, when he had his first one-person exhibition at Peggy Guggenheim's Art of This Century gallery in New York, until his death in an automobile crash at age forty-four in 1956, Pollock's volatile art and personality made him a dominant figure in the art world and the press. In 1947–48 he devised a radically new innovation: using pour and drip techniques that rely on a linear structure, he created canvases and works on paper that redefined the categories of painting and drawing. Referring to his 1951 exhibition at the Betty Parsons Gallery, fellow Abstract Expressionist painter Lee Krasner, who was Pollock's wife, noted that his work "seemed like monumental drawing, or maybe painting with the immediacy of drawing — some new category."
Pollock's poured paintings are as visually potent today as they were in the 1950s, when they first shocked the art world. Their appearance virtually shifted the focus of avant-garde art from Paris to New York, and their influence on the development of Abstract Expressionism — and on subsequent painting both in America and abroad — was enormous.
To many, the large eloquent canvases of 1950 are Pollock's greatest achievements. Autumn Rhythm, painted in October of that year, exemplifies the extraordinary balance between accident and control that Pollock maintained over his technique. The words "poured" and "dripped," commonly used to describe his unorthodox creative process, which involved painting on unstretched canvas laid flat on the floor, hardly suggest the diversity of the artist's movements (flicking, splattering, and dribbling) or the lyrical, often spritual, compositions they produced.
In Autumn Rhythm, as in many of his paintings, Pollock first created a complex linear skeleton using black paint. For this initial layer the paint was diluted, so that it soaked into the length of unprimed canvas, thereby inextricably joining image and support. Over this black framework Pollock wove an intricate web of white, brown, and turquoise lines, which produce the contrary visual rhythms and sensations: light and dark, thick and thin, heavy and buoyant, straight and curved, horizontal and vertical. Textural passages that contribute to the painting's complexity — such as the pooled swirls where two colors meet and the wrinkled skins formed by the build-up of paint — are barely visible in the initial confusion of overlapping lines. Although Pollock's imagery is nonrepresentational, Autumn Rhythm is evocative of nature, not only in its title but also in its coloring, horizontal orientation, and sense of ground and space.