Robyn Lea is a photographer by trade, foodie by choice. She started photographing Jackson Pollock’s Long Island home 5 years ago for a story for an Australian Magazine. She fell in love with the place and a hidden story revealed itself to her and she was compelled to commence working on it as a book.
Pollock was best known for his larger than life character, volatile behavior, eccentric genius, and hyper-abstract paintings. But unlike most Pollock scholars, Lea was interested in neither the technical details of Pollock’s art, nor the at-times sordid details of his life. Instead Robyn wanted to find out what he was like in the kitchen.
Below, Robyn explains her motivations for this project and deconstructs the violent myths that surround the late genius.
I moved to America about five years ago, and was looking for a project that would get me straight into the life here. I ended up at Pollock-Krasner House in Springs, Long Island—it’s about 5 miles away from East Hampton, in a little hamlet. I started to wonder what life was like for them—domestic life, their dinner parties— and wishing I could be at their table, back in time.
Then I asked a question of the director: did they have any recipe books I could look through? I’m a total foodie.
She said, ‘We actually have handwritten recipes by Jackson Pollack and Lee Krasner.’ Tasting the recipes was the next point of discovery My producer and I cooked some of them recipes up and they were delicious. That was the beginning of this journey.
I started wondering: what does that say about Pollock as an artist, his own culinary heritage? Where did these recipes come from, why were they so passionate about food?
The Pollock family, in particular Francesca Pollock, was absolutely essential to the research process. From the outset she knew that I was looking for this famed recipe book, Jackson’s mother’s recipe book, and we tried very hard to find it. And she was the one that found it. The very first meeting I had with her she sat down and said, “I’ve got news for you. We found Stella Pollock’s recipe book. It’s with a relative in California.” That was so exciting-it really helped me understand the background behind why these recipes were so good.
I went in with one view of Jackson Pollock. It’s a narrow view that is commonly spouted. When I started, I thought of his art as wild and random and slightly crazy, but fantastic. There are a lot of one-dimensional stories that keep getting retold, usually about Pollock’s drunken genius behavior.
But trying to understand this relationship between the baker and the artist made me rethink my idea of him flinging paint into a structured, rhythmic dance. Not to deny his artistic genius, but I came out of this project with a broad view of a human being that is a normal man. It was a way to see Pollock in another light, a very human, day-to-day domestic light: baking pancakes for his friends on the weekends, winning the prize at the local fair for his apple pie, or the way that he operated within his close circle of artists, friends.
These are all parts of the story of Jackson Pollock and for me, that was a wonderful discovery. I felt very lucky to be part of the process of unlocking this other side of him.
Original Film Credits
Director & DP: Robyn Lea
DP: Zoe White
Producer: Marina Cukeric
Editor: Josh Rathmell
Production Coordinator: Sabrina Morrison
Grade: Alex Gregory
Thanks to Helen Harrison, Director at the Pollock Krasner House & Study Center.
Shot on location at Pollock’s home and studio, and the local landscapes that inspired his work.
Artwork featured – Jackson Pollock, Untitled (after Number 27, 1951), 1951.
Screen print, printed posthumously, 1964. Pollock-Krasner House and Study Cener. Gift of the Estate of Lee Krasner Pollock.