Willem de Kooning

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Friend of Aestheticons and regular contributor Spike Ress, all the way from Utah, has posted this fascinating piece celebrating the work of Willem de Kooning

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Willem de Kooning (1904 – 1997)

Yesterday was the birthday of Willem de Kooning he was born on April 24, 904 and lived until March 19, 1997. De Kooning was a Dutch American Abstract Expressionist artist who was born in Rotterdam, South Holland in 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. He 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, Elaine de Kooning, Lee Krasner, Franz Kline, Arshile Gorky, Mark Rothko, Hans Hofmann, Adolph Gottlieb, Anne Ryan, Robert Motherwell, Philip Guston, Clyfford Still, and Richard Pousette-Dart.

Willem de Kooning’s parents were divorced in 1907, and de Kooning lived first with his father and then with his mother. He left school in 1916 and became an apprentice in a firm of commercial artists. Until 1924 he attended evening classes at the Academie van Beeldende Kunsten en Technische Wetenschappen, the academy of fine arts and applied sciences of Rotterdam, now the Willem de Kooning Academie.

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In 1926 de Kooning travelled to the United States as a stowaway on the Shelley, a British freighter bound for Argentina, which landed on August 15 at Newport News, Virginia. He stayed at the Dutch Seamen’s Home in Hoboken and found work as a house-painter. In 1927 he moved to Manhattan where he had a studio on West 44th Street. He supported himself with jobs in carpentry, house-painting and commercial art.

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De Kooning’s paintings of the 1930s and early 1940s are abstract still-lifes characterised by geometric or biomorphic shapes and strong colours. They show the influence of his friends Davis, Gorky and Graham, but also of Arp, Joan Miró, Mondrian and Picasso. In the same years de Kooning also painted a series of solitary male figures, either standing or seated, against undefined backgrounds; many of these are unfinished.

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De Kooning’s well-known Woman series, begun in 1950 after meeting his future wife and culminating in Woman VI, owes much to Picasso, not least in the aggressive, penetrative breaking apart of the figure and the spaces around it. Picasso’s later works show signs that he, in turn, saw and was impressed by images of works by Pollock and de Kooning.

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