Jack Tworkov was born on August 15, 1900, in Biała Podlaska, Russia (now Poland). His family emigrated to the United States in 1913, settling in New York. He studied English at Columbia University with the intent to become a writer but after seeing the paintings by Paul Cézanne and Henri Matisse for the first time, he decided to pursue a painting career. In 1923 he visited the creative community thriving in Provincetown, Massachusetts, a town he would continue visiting throughout his life. Tworkov studied at the National Academy of Design (1923) and then at the Art Students League (1925–26). Along with his formal training, he absorbed the dominant trends in European art and was especially influenced by Vasily Kandinsky, Paul Klee and Joan Miró. His early work owed much to Cézanne, favoring subject matter such as still lifes, landscapes and narrative scenes.

From 1934 to 1941 Tworkov was employed in the Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project easel division. He soon met Willem de Kooning, whose emotive and gestural style inspired him. Tworkov became part of the community of emerging Abstract Expressionists who in 1949 founded The Eighth Street Club, a group of avant-garde artists who gathered in Greenwich Village to discuss and debate art. Yet Tworkov would distance himself from Abstract Expressionism in the late 1950s, moving on to more orderly compositions. Throughout his career, he remained torn between gestural and geometric abstraction. He eventually resolved this conflict by adopting a disciplined abstraction that combined irregular brushstrokes, ruler-drawn lines, and gridded patterns.

Tworkov was part of the travelling exhibition The New American Painting (1958), organized for the Museum of Modern Art, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum’s show American Abstract Expressionists and Imagists (1961). His work was exhibited at the Walker Art Center (1957), the Whitney Museum of American Art (1964 retrospective), and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (1982), amongst others. He also taught at several institutions, among them the Black Mountain College, North Carolina, and the Pratt Institute, and he served as chairman of the art department of Yale University (1963–69). His awards included the Corcoran Gold Medal at the Biennial Exhibition of American Painting, Washington, D.C. (1963), and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship Award (1970). Tworkov died on September 4, 1982, in Provincetown. In 1987 a retrospective of his painting was shown at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia.