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Willem de Kooning
Willem de Kooning, Woman V (1952-53), National Gallery of Australia
Born April 24, 1904(1904-04-24)
Rotterdam, Netherlands
Died March 19, 1997 (aged 92)
Long Island, New York United States
Nationality Dutch, American
Field Abstract expressionism
Works Woman I, Easter Monday, Attic, Excavation

Willem de Kooning (April 24, 1904 – March 19, 1997) was an American abstract expressionist artist who was born in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

In the post-World War II era, de Kooning painted in a style that came to be referred to as Abstract expressionism or Action painting, and was part of a group of artists that came to be known as the New York School. Other painters in this group included Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, Arshile Gorky, Mark Rothko, Hans Hofmann, Adolph Gottlieb, Robert Motherwell, Philip Guston and Clyfford Still.

Contents

Biography

De Kooning's parents, Leendert de Kooning and Cornelia Nobel, were divorced when he was about five years old, and he was raised by his mother and a stepfather.[1] His early artistic training included eight years at the Rotterdam Academy of Fine Arts and Techniques.[2] In the 1920s he worked as an assistant to the art director of a Rotterdam department store.[3]

In 1926, De Kooning entered the United States as a stowaway on a British freighter, the SS Shelly, to Newport News, Virginia. He then went by ship to Boston, and took a train from Boston to Rhode Island, and eventually settled in Hoboken, New Jersey, where he supported himself as a house painter until moving to a studio in Manhattan in 1927. In 1929 he met the artist and critic John D. Graham, who would become an important stimulus and supporter.[4] He also met the painter Arshile Gorky, who became one of De Kooning's closest and most influential friends.

In October 1935, De Kooning began to work on the WPA (Works Progress Administration) Federal Art Project, and he won the Logan Medal of the arts. He was employed by this work-relief program until July 1937, when he resigned because of his alien status. This period of about two years provided the artist, who had been supporting himself during the early Depression by commercial jobs, with his first opportunity to devote full time to creative work. He worked on both the easel-painting and mural divisions of the project (the several murals he designed were never executed).

In 1938, probably under the influence of Gorky, De Kooning embarked on a series of male figures, including Two Men Standing, Man, and Seated Figure (Classic Male), while simultaneously embarking on a more purist series of lyrically colored abstractions, such as Pink Landscape and Elegy. As his work progressed, the heightened colors and elegant lines of the abstractions began to creep into the more figurative works, and the coincidence of figures and abstractions continued well into the 1940s. This period includes the representational but somewhat geometricized Woman and Standing Man, along with numerous untitled abstractions whose biomorphic forms increasingly suggest the presence of figures. By about 1945 the two tendencies seemed to fuse perfectly in Pink Angels.

In 1938, De Kooning met Elaine Marie Fried, later known as Elaine de Kooning, whom he married in 1943. She also became a significant artist. During the 1940s and thereafter, he became increasingly identified with the Abstract Expressionist movement and was recognized as one of its leaders in the mid-1950s. In 1948, De Kooning had his first one-man show, which consisted of his black-and-white enamel compositions, at the Charles Egan Gallery in New York. He taught at Black Mountain College in North Carolina in 1948 and at the Yale School of Art in 1950/51.

Mature works

The attitude that nature is chaotic and that the artist puts order into it is a very absurd point of view, I think. All that we can hope for is to put some order into ourselves.
 
— Willem de Kooning [5]

In 1946, too poor to buy artists' pigments, he turned to black and white household enamels to paint a series of large abstractions; of these works, Light in August (c. 1946) and Black Friday (1948) are essentially black with white elements, whereas Zurich (1947) and Mailbox (1947/48) are white with black. Developing out of these works in the period after his first show were complex, agitated abstractions such as Asheville (1948/49), Attic (1949), and Excavation (1950; Art Institute of Chicago), which reintroduced color and seem to sum up with taut decisiveness the problems of free-associative composition he had struggled with for many years.

The hallmark of de Kooning's style was an emphasis on complex figure ground ambiguity. Background figures would overlap other figures causing them to appear in the foreground, which in turn might be overlapped by dripping lines of paint thus positioning the area into the background.

De Kooning had painted women regularly in the early 1940s and again from 1947 to 1949. The biomorphic shapes of his early abstractions were derived from objects found in the studio. But it was not until 1950 that he began to explore the subject of women exclusively. In the summer of that year he began Woman I (located at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City), which went through innumerable metamorphoses before it was finished in 1952.

Woman III, (1953), private collection

During this period he also created other paintings of women. These works were shown at the Sidney Janis Gallery in 1953 and caused a sensation, partially because they were figurative when most of his fellow Abstract Expressionists were painting abstractly, but also because of their blatant imagery. Aggressive brushwork and strategically placed high-key colors in these paintings merged with images of toothy snarls, overripe, pendulous breasts, enlarged eyes and blasted extremities to reveal a woman seemingly congruent with some of modern man's most widely held sexual fears. Some of these paintings also appeared to reference early Mesopotamian / Akkadian works, with the large eyes and squarely chiseled bodies.

The Woman paintings II through VI (1952-53) are all variants on this theme, as are Woman and Bicycle (1953; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York) and Two Women in the Country (1954). The deliberate vulgarity of these paintings contrast with the French painter Jean Dubuffet's Corps de Dame series of 1950, in which iconic female/goddess imagery was created with a topography of earth colours, and are generally perceived as less provocative.

From the late 1950s to the early 1960s, De Kooning entered a new phase of nearly pure abstractions more related to landscape than to the human figure. These paintings, such as Bolton Landing (1957) and Door to the River (1960) bear broad brushstrokes and calligraphic tendencies similar to works of his contemporary Franz Kline.

In 1963, De Kooning moved permanently to East Hampton, Long Island, [6]and returned to depicting women while also referencing the landscape in such paintings as Woman, Sag harbor and Clam Diggers. He also turned to sculpture in later years, creating a number of works that were later cast in bronze.

De Kooning as sculptor: Seated Woman on a Bench, bronze of 1972 (cast 1976), in the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

On September 14, 1964, De Kooning was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon Johnson. In 1986, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts.

In later years, de Kooning was diagnosed with the probability of suffering from Alzheimer's disease.[3] After his wife Elaine died on February 1, 1989, his daughter, Lisa, and his lawyer, John Eastman were granted guardianship over De Kooning.[3] As the style of his later works continued to evolve into early 1989, his vintage works drew increasing profits; at Sotheby's auctions Pink Lady (1944) sold for US$3.6 million in 1987 and Interchange (1955) brought $20.6 million in 1989.

There is much debate over the significance of his 1980s paintings, which became clean, sparse, and almost graphic, while alluding to the biomorphic lines of his early works. Some have said that his very last works present a new direction of compositional complexity and color juxtaposition, and are prophetic of directions that some current painters continue to pursue. Some speculate that his mental condition and previous life of alcoholism had rendered him unable to carry out the mastery indicated in his early works. Others claim some of these paintings were removed from the studio and exhibited before de Kooning was finished with them. Unfortunately, de Kooning's last works have not been afforded the amount of critical commentary or substantial serious assessment that his earlier works received.

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Willem de Kooning, Britannica.com, p1
  2. ^ Marcia Brennan, Modernism's Masculine Subjects: Matisse, the New York School, and Post-Painterly Abstraction, MIT Press, p71. ISBN 026202571X
  3. ^ a b c Barbara Hess, Willem de Kooning 1904-1997: Content as a Glimpse, Taschen, 2004, p87. ISBN 3822821357
  4. ^ Barbara Hess, Willem de Kooning 1904-1997: Content as a Glimpse, Taschen, p15. ISBN 3822821357
  5. ^ Abstract Expressionism, by Barbara Hess, Taschen, 2005, pg 15
  6. ^ Willem de Kooning at Encyclopædia Britannica

References

External links

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Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

The attitude that nature is chaotic and that the artist puts order into it is a very absurd point of view, I think. All that we can hope for is to put some order into ourselves.

Willem de Kooning (24 April 190419 March 1997) was an abstract expressionist painter, born in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Together with Jackson Pollock he became leader of the American Abstract expressionism. In the beginning he was strongly influenced by Picasso and Cubism, later by w:Chaim Soutine. He was closely befriended with Arshile Gorky, and later with Franz Kline.

Sourced

  • ..art never seems to make me peaceful or pure. I always seem to be wrapped in the melodrama of vulgarity. I do not think.. ..of art as a situation of comfort.
    • Beyond the Aesthetic, Robert Motherwell, Design 47, April 1946, as quoted in Astract Expressionist Painting in America, W.C, Seitz, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1983, p. 101
  • Jackson (Pollock, fh) has broken the ice for us. (his comment on Pollock’s drip paintings, first shown at Betty Parsons gallery, 1948, fh)
    • Abstract Expressionism, David Anfam, Thames and Hudson Ltd London, 1990, p. 130
  • The texture of experience is prior to everything else. (1948, in the period of making his ‘Excavation’, fh)
    • Abstract Expressionism, David Anfam, Thames and Hudson Ltd London, 1990, p. 150
  • When, about fifteen years ago, I walked into Arshile’s studio for the first time, the atmosphere was so beautiful that I got a little dizzy and when I came to, I was bright enough tot take the hint immediately. If the bookkeepers think it necessary to make sure of where things and people came from, well then, I came from 36 Union Square (address of the studio of Gorky that time, fh).. ..I am glad that it is about impossible to get away from his powerful influence.
    • ART news, Vol. 47, no 9, January 1949
  • For really, when you think of all the life and death problems in the art of the Renaissance, who cares if a Chevalier is laughing or that a young girl has a red blouse on.
    • The Renaissance and Order (1950) Trans/formation, vol. 1, no.2, 1951, pp. 85-87
  • There is a train track in the history of art that goes way back to Mesopotamia. It skips the whole Orient, The Mayas, And American Indians. Duchamp is on it. Cézanne is on it. Picasso and the Cubists are on it; Giacometti, Piet Mondrian, and so many.. ..I have some feeling about all these people – millions of them – on this enormous track, a way into history. They had a peculiar way of measuring. They seemed to measure with a length similar to their own height.. ..The idea that the thing that the artist is making can come to know for itself, how high it is, how wide and how deep it is, is a historical one, - a traditional one I think. It comes from man’s own image.
    • De Kooning’s lecture Trans/formation at Studio 35, 1950
  • I admit I know little of Orient art. But that is because I cannot find in it what I am looking for, or what I am talking about. To me the Oriental idea of beauty is that ‘it isn’t there’. It is in a state of nor being there. It is absent. That is why it is so good. It is the same thing I don’t like in Suprematism, Purism and non-objectivity.. ..I do like the idea that they - the pots and pans (in the old still lives) , I mean – are always in relation to man. They have no soul of their own, like they seem to have in the Orient..
    • De Koonings lecture Trans/formation, at Studio 35, 1950
  • ‘Nature then, is just nature. I admit I am very impressed with it. The attitude that nature is chaotic and that the artist puts order into it is a very absurd point of view, I think. All that we can do for is to put some order in ourselves. When a man ploughs his field at the right time, it means just that.
    • De Koonings lecture Trans/formation, at Studio 35, 1950
  • But one day, some painter used 'Abstraction' as a title for one of his paintings. It was a still life. And it was a very tricky title. And it wasn’t really a very good one. From then on the idea became something extra. Immediately it gave some people the idea that they could free art from itself. Until then, Art meant everything that was in it – not what you could take off it. There was only one thing you could take out of it sometime when you were in the right mood – that abstract and indefinable sensation, the aesthetic part – and still leave it were it was..
    • De Koonings speech on the symposium, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 5 February, 1951
  • The aesthetics of painting were always in a state of development parallel to the development of painting itself. They influenced each other and vice versa. But all of the sudden, in that famous turn of the century (around 1900, fh) a few people thought they could take the bull by the horns and invent an aesthetic beforehand. After immediately disagreeing with each other, they began to form all kind of groups, each with the idea of freeing art.. ..The question as they saw it, was not so much what you could paint, but what you could not paint. You could not paint a house or a tree or a mountain. It was then that the subject matter came into existence as something you ought not to have.
    • De Koonings speech on the symposium, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 5 February, 1951
  • I am always in the picture somewhere. The amount of space I use I am always in, I seem to move around in it. And there seems to be a time when I lose sight of what I wanted to do, and then I am out of it. If the picture has a countenance I keep it. If it hasn’t, I throw it away.
    • Modern Artists in America, First Series, R. Motherwell, Ad Reinhardt and B. Karpel eds., 1952 p. 12
  • (in the Italian Renaissance) there was no ‘subject-matter’. What we call subject matter now, was then painting itself. Subject matter came later on when parts of those works were taken out arbitrarily, when a man for no reason is sitting, standing or ling down. He became a bather, she became a bather; she was reclining; het just stood there looking ahead. That is when the posing in panting began.. ..For really, when you think of all the life and death problems in the art of Renaissance, who cares if a Chevalier is laughing or that a young girl has a red blouse on.
    • The Renaissance and Order Trans/formation 1, 1951, as quoted in Abstract Expressionist Painting in America, W.C, Seitz, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1983, p. 113
  • Kandinsky understood ‘form’ as a form, like an object in the real world; and a object, he said, was a narrative – and so, of course, he disapproved of it. He wanted ‘his music without words’. He wanted to be ‘simple as a child’. He intended, with his ‘inner-self’ to rid himself of ‘philosophical barricades’ (he sat down and wrote something about all this). But in turn his own writing has become a philosophical barricade, even it is a barricade full of holes. It offers a kind of Middle European idea of Buddhism or, anyhow, something too theosophical for me.
    • De Koonings speech on the symposium, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 5 February, 1951
  • I still think that Boccioni was a great artist and a passionate man. I like El Lissitsky’s painting very much. But Mondrian that great merciless artist, is the only one who had nothing left over. The point they all had in common was to be both inside and outside at the same time. A new of likeness!.. ..for me to be inside and outside is to be in an unheated studio with broken windows in the winter..
    • De Koonings speech on the symposium, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 5 February, 1951
  • Some painters, including myself, do not care what chair they are sitting on. It does not even has to be a comfortable one. They are too nervous to find out were they ought to sit.

They do not want to ‘sit in style’. Rather they have found that painting – any kind of painting, any style of painting – to be painting at all, in fact – a style of living, so to speak. That is where the form of it lies. It is exactly in its uselessness that it is free. Those artists don’t want to conform. They only want to be inspired.

    • De Koonings speech on the symposium, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 5 February, 1951
  • The sentiment of the Cubists was simpler. No space. Everything ought to keep going! That’s probably the reason they went themselves. Either a man was a machine or else a sacrifice to make machines with.. ..Personally, I do not need a movement. Of all movements, I like Cubism most. It had that wonderful unsure atmosphere of reflection – a poetic frame where something could be possible, where an artist could practice his intuition. It didn’t want to get rid of what went before. Instead it added something to it. The parts that I can appreciate in other movements came out of Cubism.. . It has force in it but it was no 'force-movement'.
    • De Koonings speech on the symposium, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 5 February, 1951
  • The potato seems like a Romantic (organic) object.. ..you can watch it growing if you don’t eat it. It is going to change – grow, rot, disappear. A pebble is like a Classical thing – it changes little if any.. .. If it was big you could keep the dead down with it.. ..The Classical idea is not around much anymore (comparing in a discussion at the Artist’ Club the potatoes of Vincent Van Gogh to the pebbles of Jean Arp, fh)
    • Artist Club, 22 February 1952, as quoted in Abstract Expressionist Painting in America, W.C, Seitz, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1983, p. 102
  • You know the real world, this so-called real world, is just something you put up with. Like everybody else. I’m in my element when I am a little bit out of this world. Then I’m in the real world – I’m on the beam. Because when I’m falling, I’m doing all right. When I’m slipping, I say: he, this is interesting. It’s when I’m standing upright that bothers me..
    • film script Sketchbook 1, Time inc; 1960
  • I met a lot of artists – but then I met Gorky. I had some training in Holland, quite a training, the Academy. Gorky didn’t have that at all. He came from no place; he came here (US) when he was sixteen, from Tiflis in Georgia, with an Armenian upbringing. And for some mysterious reason, he knew lots more about painting and art – he just knew it by nature.. ..He had an extraordinary gift for hitting the nail on the head; very remarkable. So I immediately attached myself to him and we became very good friends. It was nice to be foreigners meeting in some new place.
    • interview conducted by David Sylvester for the BBC, 1962; as quoted in Abstract Expressionism, Creators and Critics, edited by Clifford Ross, Abrahams Publishers, New York 1990, p. 44
  • Certain artists and critics attacked me for painting the ‘Women’, but I felt that this was their problem, not mine. I don’t really feel like a non-objective painter at all.. ..It’s really absurd to make an image, like a human image. With paint, today, when you think about it, since we have this problem of doing it or not doing it. But then all of a sudden it was even more absurd not to do it. So I fear I have to follow my desires.
    • interview conducted by David Sylvester for the BBC, 1962; as quoted in Abstract Expressionism: Creators and Critics, edited by Clifford Ross, Abrahams Publishers, New York 1990, p. 45
  • The ‘Women’ had to do with the female painted through all ages, all those idols, and maybe I was stuck to a certain extent; I couldn’t go on. It did one thing for me: it eliminated composition, arrangement, relationships, light – all this silly talk about line, colour and form – because that was the thing I wanted to get hold off.
    • interview conducted by David Sylvester for the BBC, 1962; as quoted in Abstract Expressionism: Creators and Critics, edited by Clifford Ross, Abrahams Publishers, New York 1990, p. 45
  • Today (1962, fh) artists are in a belated age of reason. They want to get hold of things. Take Mondrian; he was a fantastic artist. But when we read his ideas and his idea of Neo-Plasticism – pure plasticity – it’s kind of silly. Not for him, but I think one could spend one’s life having this desire to be in- and outside at the same time. He could see a future life and a future city – not like me, who am absolutely not interested in seeing the future city. I’m perfectly happy to be alive now.
    • interview conducted by David Sylvester for the BBC, 1962; as quoted in Abstract Expressionism: Creators and Critics, edited by Clifford Ross, Abrahams Publishers, New York 1990, p. 47
  • I had my own eyes, but I wasn't always looking in the right direction. I was certainly in need of a helping hand at times. Now I feel like Manet who said, "Yes, I am influenced by everbody. But every time I put my hands in my pockets I find someone else's fingers there."
    • As quoted in Willem De Kooning, 1904-1997: Content as a Glimpse by Barbara Hess, 2004
  • The pictures (I have) done since the 'Women', they’re emotions, most of them. Most of them are landscapes and highways and sensations of that, outside the city – with the feeling of going to the city or coming from it. I am not a pastoral character. I’m not a – how do you say that? – ‘country dumpling’. I am here and I like New York City. But I love to go out in a car.. ..I’m just crazy about going over the roads and highways.
    • interview conducted by David Sylvester for the BBC, 1962; as quoted in Abstract Expressionism: Creators and Critics, edited by Clifford Ross, Abrahams Publishers, New York 1990, p. 48
  • Now I can make some highways, maybe. Of course there will be something else. Now I can set to do it, and then it will be, maybe it will be a painting of something else. Because if you know the measure of things – for yourself there is no absolute measure – you can find the size of everything. You say now that’s just this length and immediately with that length you can paint, well, a cat. If you understand one thing you can use it for something else. That is the way I work.. .. I mean I have an attitude. I have to have an attitude.
    • interview conducted by David Sylvester for the BBC, 1962; as quoted in Abstract Expressionism: Creators and Critics, edited by Clifford Ross, Abrahams Publishers, New York 1990, p. 48
  • I feel now if I think of it, it will come out in the painting. In other words, if I want to make the whole painting look like a bottle, like a lot of bottles - for instance maybe the end of the day, when everything is very light, but not in sunlight necessarily - and so if I have this image of this bottle and if I really think about it, it will come out in the painting. That doesn’t mean that people notice a bottle, but I know when I succeed in it – then the painting would have this.
    • interview conducted by David Sylvester for the BBC, 1962; as quoted in Abstract Expressionism: Creators and Critics, edited by Clifford Ross, Abrahams Publishers, New York 1990, p. 49
  • I make a little mystique for myself. Since I have no preference or so-called sense of color, I could take almost everything that could be some accident of a previous painting. Or I set out to make a series. I take, for instance, some pictures where I take a color, some arbitrary color I took from some place. Well, this is gray maybe, and I mix the color for that, and then I find out that when I am through with getting the color the way I want it, I have six other colors in it, to get that color; and then I take those six colors and I use them also with this color. It is probably like a composer does a variation on a certain theme. But it isn’t technical, it isn’t just fun..
    • interview conducted by David Sylvester for the BBC, 1962; as quoted in Abstract Expressionism: Creators and Critics, edited by Clifford Ross, Abrahams Publishers, New York 1990, p. 50
  • the word ‘abstract’ comes from the light tower of the philosophers.. ..one of their spotlights that they have particularly focussed on ‘Art’.. ..(abstraction was) not so much what you could paint but rather what you could not paint. You could not paint a house or a tree or a mountain. It was then that subject matter came into existence as something you ought not have.
    • Willem de Kooning, MOMA Bull., pp. 4, 6; as quoted in Abstract Expressionist Painting in America, W.C, Seitz, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1983, p. 104
  • I feel sometimes an American artist must feel, like a baseball player or something - a member of a team writing American history..
    • Willem de Kooning (1969) by Thomas B. Hess, Content Is A Glimpse, excerpts from an interview with David Sylvester, (BBC), Location, vol.1 no.1 Spring 1963
  • I think I would choose Soutine (answer on the question who is his favourite artist, fh).. ..I've always been crazy about Soutine - all of his paintings. Maybe it's the lushness of the paint. He builds up a surface that looks like a material, like a substance. There's a kind of transfiguration, a certain fleshiness in his work.. ..I remember when I first saw the Soutine’s in the Barnes Collection.. ..the Matisse's had a light of their own, but the Soutine’s had a glow that came from within the paintings - it was another kind of light. (remark probably made around 1977, fh)
    • The impact of Chaim Soutine (1893-1943): de Kooning, Pollock, Dubuffet, Bacon, publisher: Hatje Cantz, Galerie Gmurzynska, Cologne (Köln), 2001
  • And then there is that one-man movement, Marcel Duchamp — for me a truly modern movement because it implies that each artist can do what he thinks he ought to — a movement for each person and open for everybody.
    • Quoted in A Brief History of American Culture (1996) by Robert M. Crunden, p. 279
  • What fascinates me about Van Gogh is that his sundries up everything. Maybe he was melodramatic but my point really is.. ..if you are a painter you have to face that self-consciousness. You get dirty and pathetic; very miserable. It makes me self-conscious to talk about it. There is something corrupt on art. Nothing do with any ‘ism’ but a thing in nature loses its innocence and becomes a grotesque thing.. ..maybe this difficulty is personal with me, and maybe it is something that other painters have in common. Perhaps it is also something of today. (conversation with W.C. Seitz)

’’Abstract Expressionist Painting in America, W.C, Seitz, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1983, p. 121

  • The point they (Lissitzky, Rodchenko, Tatlin, Gabo, the neo-Plasticists, and so on) all had in common was to be inside and outside at the same time.. ..For me, to be inside and outside is to be in an unheated studio with broken windows in the winter, or taking a nap on somebody’s porch in the summer..
    • Willem de Kooning, MOMA Bull, pp. 7,6, as quoted in Abstract Expressionist Painting in America, W.C, Seitz, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1983, p. 134
  • ..Man’s own form in space – his body – was a private prison; and that it was because of this imprisoning misery – because he was hungry and overworked and went to a horrid place called home late at night in the rain, and his bones ached and his head was heavy.
    • Willem de Kooning, MOMA Bull, pp. 7,6; as quoted in Abstract Expressionist Painting in America, W.C, Seitz, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1983, p. 135

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