J. Pollock was employed by the WPA Federal Art Project in the fall of 1935 as an easel painter. This position gave him economic security during the remaining years of the Great Depression as well as an opportunity to develop his art. From his years with Benton through 1938, Pollock’s work was strongly influenced by the compositional methods and regionalist subject matter of his teacher and by the poetically expressionist vision of the American painter Albert Pinkham Ryder. It consisted mostly of small landscapes and figurative scenes such as Going West (1934–35), in which Pollock utilized motifs derived from photographs of his birthplace at Cody.
Albert Pinkham Ryder
About 1870 Ryder settled permanently in New York City, where he briefly studied painting. His formal training, however, did little to affect his early work, consisting largely of naive and idyllic landscapes. He made several short trips to Europe, but the paintings in art museums interested him little. He was an imaginative, solitary painter. His lifework of about 150 paintings was produced slowly; his works are, therefore, difficult to date with certainty.
Ryder was a mystic and a romantic. Works such as Toilers of the Sea reflect his obsession with the sea as well as his notion that man is helpless against the forces of nature. Many of his works, such as his Jonah, were drawn from the Bible, while other paintings, such as Macbeth and the Witches, The Temple of the Mind, and Siegfried and the Rhine Maidens, were depictions of episodes from William Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, and Richard Wagner.
Ryder’s works are pervaded by thick, yellow light (usually moonlight), which heightens the mood of such paintings as The Race Track or Death on a Pale Horse. He omitted nonessential details from his paintings, concentrating instead on generalized forms and masses of colour, often applying broad, thick layers of pigment with a palette knife.
By 1900 his powers were impaired, and he injured some of his earlier paintings with misjudged reworkings. Because of his eccentric technical methods, a number of Ryder’s paintings have suffered from rapid deterioration. Toward the end of the artist’s life, his native misanthropy increased, and he died an impoverished recluse, tended only by his few remaining friends.