Brief History of Some of The Great Artists!

by Jolyon Hooley
(San Sebastian)

Willem De Kooning

Willem De Kooning

The Life and Times of Willem De Kooning

One of the artists that changed the landscape of visual art was Willem de Kooning. Born in 1904 to divorced couple Leender de Kooning and Cornelia Nobel, the Dutch-American painter was known for Abstract Expressionism, an art movement that became a major precursor to modernism.

Willem De Kooning showed incredible curiosity towards art at such a young age. At age 12, he became an apprentice at a leading design firm, which nurtured his love towards painting and visual art forms. He eventually enrolled in the Academie Van Beeldende Kunsten de Technische Wetenschappen te Rotterdam to go to night school and cultivate his knowledge and skills.

In 1926 to 1927, he stowed away to the city of New York, where he resided. In the great city, he established himself as a commercial artist and became a contributing member of the growing art scene. He was the close associates of known greats, such as Stuart Davis and Arshile Gorky.

By 1936, during the age of America’s Great Depression, he became a full-time artist, contributing significant impactful works until the end of World War 2. Together with Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and Franz Cline, they established the characterizing visual style of that time period. Their skill, talent and truly captivating masterpieces shifted the attention away from European masters such as Man Ray and Pablo Picasso, who was acclaimed for the works they have created during the much talked about Avant Garde and Bohemian Period in Paris, France. For the first time, the focus was on America, on Manhattan, in particular.

In 1948, Willem De Kooning held his first solid exhibition. He was showered with critical appreciation and praises as both critics and fellow painters celebrated the oil and enamel paintings he displayed. Afterwards, he began to sell his paintings and became the recipient of the Logan Medal and the Purchase Prize from the Art Institute of Chicago, cementing his place in art history. Some of De Kooning’s most famous works include Police Gazette, Seated Woman on a Bench, Clamdigger and Woman I and II, which was influenced by the works of Picasso.

Abstract Expressionism, which is also known as the New York School, takes influence from surrealism. While surrealism dealt with the notion of the dream, the new style puts a special and focused emphasis on emotional response and the subconscious, creating a primal and raw artwork that’s striking and compelling. That’s why many refer to it as ‘action painting.’

In De Kooning, this is characterized by the manner in which he masterfully blended the human figure, distorting familiar images, making them new, visceral and striking in the process. At the same time, it has movement, dynamism, an almost pulsating quality, like a stream of thought that can change and shift from one direction to another. At the same time, there’s an incompleteness and absence, an abandonment, visible in the artworks, similar to a thought that simply just disappears and dissipates.

Willem De Kooning is one of the great masters of the art world. His works, his paintings and his life eventually became a determining factor in how we perceive visual art and design in the contemporary era.

We can all learn a lot from these old masters!
Jolyon Hooley, February 2016

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