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 of becoming a writer, but after seeing the paintings by Paul Cézanne and Henri Matisse he decided to pursue a career in painting. 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 in 1923 and then at the Art Students League in 1925–26. Alongside 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 owes much to Cézanne, favoring subject matter such as still lifes, landscapes, and narrative scenes.

From 1934 to 1941 Tworkov was employed in the easel division of the Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project. He soon met Willem de Kooning and was deeply inspired by his emotive and gestural style. 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. Tworkov however distanced himself from Abstract Expressionism in the late 1950s, going on to develop more orderly compositions. Throughout his career, he remained torn between gestural and geometric abstraction. He eventually resolved this conflict by developing a disciplined brand of abstraction that combined irregular brushstrokes, ruler-drawn lines, and gridded patterns.

Tworkov was part of the travelling exhibition The New American Painting in 1958, organized for the Museum of Modern Art, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum’s show American Abstract Expressionists and Imagists of 1961. His work was exhibited at the Walker Art Center in 1957, in a retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1964, and at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 1982, among others notable institutions. He also taught at several institutions, among them Black Mountain College, North Carolina, and the Pratt Institute in New York, and served as chairman of the art department at Yale University between 1963 and 1969. He was awarded the Corcoran Gold Medal at the Biennial Exhibition of American Painting, Washington, D.C. in 1963, and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship Award in 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.