Willem de Kooning

Here’s de Kooning:
Here’s a bit of de Kooning talking about the women paintings.

Here’s some more de Kooning. Motherwell and Newman are on the video as well. But those two don’t interest me nearly as much as de Kooning does. Motherwell and Newman are interesting to listen to. But I can’t look at their work with remotely like the interest that I look at de Kooning’s work.

Check out the lengths of those brushes. He’s not making simple paintings by any means. It’s extremely complex work. Newman and Motherwell don’t make complex paintings and they don’t interest me at all really. But I keep an open mind. I never know if I’m going to develop an interest in a painter who has never interested me before.


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11 Responses to Willem de Kooning

  1. trueoutsider says:

    I’ve just been posting on Max Beckmann’s experience in WWI. De Kooning was born in 1904 so he was 10 years old when the European continent was plunged into that inferno. What people never think about when they look at artists like De Kooning is what their life experience was like. Why the violent images of bodies being dismembered and reassembled? Imagine what de Kooning’s childhood would have been like as the massive butchery of trench warfare was all over Europe. All these artists were responding to the a civilization gone mad. Duchamp’s urinal comes out of this period. Gorky in his childhood was witnessing a massive genocide against his people in Armenia by the Turks. He was a refugee fleeing a holocaust. His mother died of starvation on his journey to the United States.

    He obsessively painted different versions of himself and his mother from a photograph that he kept with him from that time. You can see the beginnings of his move toward abstraction occurring in them. He was unable to deal with the pain and horror of what he’d experienced and through abstracting the image was able to deal with it in aestheticized forms. He never spoke of his past. He invented an entirely different personal history. His name was invented. Even his wife knew nothing about his past or personal history.

    • Steve says:

      A world gone mad and painters trying to maintain sanity by painting the madness. I can only imagine the horrors, and of course read about them. Another one was Kokoshka who got shot in the skull, and while he was laying there, played dead not making a sound while a soldier bayoneted him through the ribs. Is it any wonder that after the war he carried around a life size female doll? I don’t know much about Gorky, but his story sounds woefully sad too. They had been through so much hell that what was to fear about putting paint on a canvas or paper? ( well, maybe they lived in fear even then, , as Beckmann recounted “reliving every shot” , and poor Gorky painting and repainting his mother ). I dearly love many of the old master artists individually, but if I was to choose a time in history that influences my consciousness, it would be 1850-1950 approximately Europe ( including American exiles ) , not just the painting, but my favorite writers are from that 100 years or so.
      I have never used black in my painting very much, but if I do paint my own versions of the new dark age, I think I will. I generally don’t like the sooty look of colors mixed with black and feel I can make richer more alive chromatic blacks with the darkest compliments. But I love how these artists used straight black, it’s very rich and striking. And the softest sweetist Impressionist painter Renoir maintained that “…black is the queen of colors.”

  2. trueoutsider says:

    I’m bringing Gorky up in relation to De Kooning because Gorky was the painter that set De Kooning on his path toward abstraction. They both went from making paintings of figures to full abstraction. They both used those dagger brushes to make their elegant lines.

    Gorky’s using black paint:

    De Kooning white enamel paint on black. This is on paper mounted on composition board. 36 x 48 inches. Made in 1948 to 1949 as the scale is moved up from the Asheville painting. But you see how these painters are always developing. They don’t adopt a technique and endlessly refine it– they’re always moving toward some deeper unknown territory inside themselves.

    • Steve says:

      I’ve always felt, when viewing a de Kooning painting, that he started painting, and stayed painting, at the beginning. The above black painting with white calligraphy could be the beginning of just about any kind of picture. I see endless subject matter in it. It could be the start of another portrait or a cafe scene with several figures, or a city scape, or whatever. I wonder if that was his intention. The beginning of a painting is often the most exciting phase and it can quickly go downhill after that. Maybe de Kooning purposely kept the initial gestation part going by continually switching from one possible image to another, not allowing any particular vision to dominate.

      • trueoutsider says:

        I see it just like that, just like Picasso. If anyone has netflix they should put this at the top of the queue. The film maker, Henri-Georges Clouzot, sets up a camera on the other side of a surface Picasso is working on. You see the drawings materialize as they happen. They’re just quick exercises but you can see how it’s a process of continual metamorphosis. Later in the film we see one of his paintings develop in stop-motion. It goes through hundreds of revisions. It’s bathers on a beach. But things change radically from one shot to another. As Picasso seeks the final form for his vision. And of course there is no final form, that’s just where he lays down the brush to go to something else. It’s a continual process of trying to set down what is inside the mind of the painter. There’s nothing undisciplined or slapdash or just throwing paint around about it. It’s intensely concentrated. What is remarkable in painters like this, just as it is in Turner, is their enormous vitality and energy. They’re filled with some enormous internal volcano that’s needs to take form on the canvas. They’re not copying anything or mimicking anything. Just as Pollock’s response to Hans Hoffmann’s criticism that he wasn’t following nature, which you brought up before. Pollock says: “I am nature.” It’s such a simple and brilliant answer. Of course, the painter himself IS just as much nature as a landscape or flower. Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, describes the inner self as a flower. Om Mani Padme Hum…. oh the jewel in the lotus:


        Bennie Maupin has a tune called Jewel in the Lotus which I can’t find, but this is great. He’s the bass clarinetist. I saw him play with Herbie Hancock when they were playing the Headhunters album. Jazz is just like Picasso. Pollock listened to it all the time. It’s spontaneous improvisation. You have to be a master musician to play like this, ideas coming from the wellspring, not sitting and analyzing from a distance.

  3. trueoutsider says:

    Note that just a little after three minutes he’s riffing on this tune:

    That’s how music talks and painting talks just like it as well. You look at other stuff. Just how Gorky and de Kooning are engaging in a visual dialogue. There’s no verbal content at all. The verbal stuff just gets larded on top of it. Painting is like music or poetry. Who asks what Beethoven was saying in his 7th Symphony or how to decipher it in verbal terms?

    • Steve says:

      I have a copy of the Mystery Of Picasso, and play it when nobody else is around. I wish there had been more over-the-shoulder recording of him painting, like in the very beginning when he is conjuring-up a rooster on that plate glass. But the stop-motion paintings at the end of the film are jaw-dropping. That bull painting goes from one great painting to another great painting and on to more great paintings, and all of those great paintings hidden under the final version, which as you say probably wasn’t “final” so much as it was Picasso feeling tired or going on to something else. What a painter !
      And a lot like a jazz musician, as you say. My son is a jazz pianist who opened my world up to jazz, and I remember feeling, as that new world dawned upon me, just how much it was like how I felt when painting first rose-up into my consciousness during my first year in college. I think that spontaneous connections are necessary in art, regardless of the medium, and as we have noted in earlier posts, probably a lot of the great paintings of the past were not as absolutely predetermined and totally planned out during their creation as they seem to us viewing them now with the finality of retrospection.

      • trueoutsider says:

        What I can’t figure out in that movie is what he’s working with. It’s like some kind of magic brush and ink. It just goes on endlessly. Is it some kind of marker that absorbs all the ink? That ink seems to last a long time. Then he’s mixing those colors too when it goes to the color. That’s why I want to look over his shoulder! You can’t get a good look at what’s going on there. Now I have to watch it again!

        My favorite part is seeing that bather painting. I think I’m going to put up a thread of just bather paintings. That’s a great subject for painting. I’ve loved doing them over the years, except now I’m in New Mexico. Maybe I should take my sketch book to some of the hot springs.

        Yeah, that bull painting is great isn’t it? He just keeps restructuring the whole thing. And it’s riveting how he keeps making those decisions seemingly effortlessly. But he’d already done so much analytical work early on with Cubism that allowed him that ability.

        It’s almost as if the beginning has already formed in his mind before he puts the first brush stroke down. He’s never hesitating. And when the cameraman asks to change the film and if he’s feeling tired, he just says let’s keep on going.

        I think that’s the key to good painting. You have to get into the zone and just let it go. Not fight with it. It’s just as if he’s watching his mind work. Not trying to force the image out at all. He’s playing with it. I had a teacher at school that came up with the definition of art as “structured play.” I wasn’t sure what he meant at the time but it’s a perfect definition. You have to be skilled enough to know the structure issues. But the whole thing needs to play itself. Just like the jazz solos. Go with the rhythm of the process. Don’t you think?

  4. johnk823 says:

    De Kooing, Gorky and all the above mentioned are all leaning more toward the abstract and the dark and clearly for some the bizzar. Like Steve said, a world gone mad, but yet let us look at Michelangelo’s “The Last Judgement”, now there are some pretty creative and imaginative painting going on in that piece of work, so it really goes back quite away, when it comes to letting the imagination go wild. Look at the “Ressurection of the Flesh” totally out of the realm for its time, but then the imagimation again is used to create the abscure and unordinary. The mind is a power house of total chaous when it wants to be and then it can be turned around and be sweet, kind and loving, when it comes to what one paints and creates.

    When you listen to these videos, you see men so sure in their own ideas and world of their reality. Big brushes, big technique, big boards, and maybe a big ego to go along with it. It doesn’t matter, because they all have their own end means, just as we all have our own end means for our work. And, so when one paints from within their own spirit, soul, minds eye, interpersonal relations with feeling the art flow through the viens and onto the canvas or whatever your painting on, it is personal, yes, very personal and extraordinare.

    We all have room for improvement maybe in what we do and what we learn, and maybe the key to it all, within itself is the learning part, and then how to take what we learn and as creative as possible, take what we are doing to the next possible level of the spiritual consciousness and let it bleed out on to the canvas through color, shape and tones of light and dark, evacuating every trace element of inner creation, even sucking it out of the marrow of our bones.

  5. johnk823 says:

    Here is another artist that seem to fit into this box of creative wizardry, Gordon.


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