Paul Jackson Pollock was born on January 18, 1912, in Cody, Wyoming. He was the fifth and youngest son of LeRoy McCoy Pollock and Stella McClure Pollock. His mother encouraged all her sons to be artists when they were young. Three of Jackson's older brothers became artists too. Their childhood was spent in Arizona and California. The brothers would watch the Native Americans perform their ceremonial dances and making sand paintings. Jackson developed a deep respect for Native American culture and later incorporated elements into his painting that he learned from them. .
In 1928 Paul Jackson began to study painting at the Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles. When Jackson was eighteen, he went to New York. Between 1929 and 1931 he studied at the Art Students League in New York City. Jackson's brother, Charles, had also studied here and had had the same teacher, Thomas Hart Benton. It was at about this time that Jackson dropped his first name, Paul, and began using his middle name. .
Under Benton's guidance, Pollock analysed Old Master paintings and learned the rudiments of drawing and composition. Pollock's early paintings, realistic scenes of life in America, clearly reflect Benton's influence. Rubens, Michelangelo and El Greco had influenced Benton's sense of illustrative rhythms. As his career progressed, Pollock rejected his teacher's representational subject matter, but maintained Benton's emphasis on dynamic, rhythmic composition. For example, Pollock's post-student work The Flame (1937) represents a surprising and radical shift in artistic direction. The painting was Pollock's first attempt to free expression from subject and is a clear step toward has a slight recognisable composition but is undermined by the emphasis placed on colour, tone and atmosphere. .
Furthermore, Jackson had studied mural painting with Benton and posed for his teacher's murals (1930-31) at the New School for Social Research, where the Mexican muralist José Clemente Orozco was at work on frescoes.