Willem de Kooning


de Kooning is an abstract expressionist artist born in 1904 in Rotterdam.  He emigrated to the US in 1926 and worked od jobs until 1935 when he became a muralist for the Federal Art Project.  In these early years, de Kooning shared a studio with Arshile Gorky, known for his surrealist style, and de Kooning was influenced by this style as well as Picasso’s.  In 1943 he married Elaine Marie Fried, who also became a significant abstract expressionist painter.  In the 1950s de Kooning began his well-known ‘Woman’ series as well as experimenting with abstract landscapes.  Later in the 1970s he began sculpting in bronze, maintaining his abstract/surrealist style.  de Kooning suffered from alcoholism and was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s late in life, both of which are believed to have influenced a shift in his style in the 1980s toward sparse, graphic works.  He died in 1997 in Long Island.  (from http://www.willem-de-kooning.com/ and the de Kooning Wikipedia page)

Woman Series:

The first, Woman I, took nearly 20 years de Kooning to finish.  The artist would pull the canvas from its frame, abandon the work and move on to others, then hang it back on the frame later and continue working.  In fact, de Kooning continued altering the painting up until it was loaded on to the truck for transport to its first exhibition.  Initially critics interpreted the bared buck teeth and oversized eyes as an example of the artist’s disdain for women or hatred of his wife.  Additionally, the subject, a single, seated woman, was seen as entirely too traditional for the modern abstract movement.  In reality, de Kooning said his influenced lay in the image of women throughout the ages, especially the idols of the Mesopotamian people.  The tone of the paintings, according to the artist, had no underlying critique of women or sexuality, they were merely images.

(From “The Birth of ‘Woman I’ by David Sylvester, published in The Burlington Magazine)

A collection of de Kooning’s works at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City is viewable here.