Painter and printmaker. The only woman among originators of abstract expressionism, she nevertheless found relatively little recognition until some years after the 1956 death of her husband, Jackson Pollock. Born Lena (called Lenore) Krassner in Brooklyn, she changed her first name in childhood and revised the spelling of her family name around 1943. She entered Cooper Union in 1926 and two years later transferred to the National Academy of Design. She also haunted the Museum of Modern Art from its opening in 1929. Her early, directly realistic paintings display vigorous brushwork and strong compositions. After leaving the academy in 1932, at the height of the Depression, she remained somewhat adrift for several years as she worked at odd jobs, took evening classes in education, and continued to draw. In 1937 she began studying with Hans Hofmann, who enlarged her understanding of European modernism during her three years at his school. While there she began exhibiting with the American Abstract Artists and gained employment with a federal art project that provided support until 1942.
Late in 1941 Krasner and Pollock became acquainted (they may have met in passing at an earlier date) after John Graham invited both to participate in an important gallery show. They began living together about six months later. Krasner had benefited from a thorough artistic education and had acquired considerable sophistication about modern art, while Pollock, after hitching his wagon to the descending star of American Scene regionalism, had been marking time through most of the 1930s. Nevertheless, she realized that he possessed an extraordinary talent. Despite her own ambition, she devoted much of her time through the rest of his life to helping him achieve his potential and to assuring recognition for his accomplishments. In the early years of their relationship, she produced little work of consequence while trying to come to terms with the surrealist automatism that was crucial to Pollock's formation as an artist. After their marriage in October 1945 and immediately subsequent move to a small house in the Long Island village of Springs, a hamlet within the town of East Hampton, limited working space restricted the size of her work, while Pollock's took on a grand scale after he converted a barn into his studio. Nevertheless, about the time he embarked on his huge poured and dripped paintings in 1947, she found her footing with a Little Image series. These small-scale, all-over abstractions featuring dense linear layers, often poured, sometimes recall Mark Tobey's work more than her husband's. Often they incorporate hieroglyphic symbols indebted to the Hebrew writing she learned in childhood and to her admiration for Celtic manuscripts. In the variations among these paintings, as she alternated between the freedom of the drawn line and the discipline of a gridded structure, she demonstrated a tension in her practice that played out through much of her later work. In the early 1950s, she produced a series of strong collages incorporating fragments of her own and Pollock's discarded paintings and suggesting admiration for Matisse.