“Jackson Pollock: Is he the greatest living painter in the United States?” So asked the headline of the famous August 8, 1949, LIFE article that made Pollock’s reputation — and that he spent much of the rest of his life trying to live up to.
By giving birth to the abstract expressionist movement and making America the center of the art avant-garde, Pollock would prove the headline correct. But he soon abandoned the drip method that had made him famous, and spent the last few years of his life trying less successful styles and battling demons of depression and alcoholism.
As this week marks the 55th anniversary of his death (in a single-car crash, on August 11, 1956, at age 44), LIFE.com presents rare and unseen outtakes from LIFE photographer Martha Nelson’s shoot with Pollock, images that offer a more complete portrait of the artist’s home life in the Hamptons (with wife and fellow painter Lee Krasner) and the singular working method that made him an art-world hero.
see more — Jackson Pollock: RARE & UNPUBLISHED