Willem de Kooning 2

I pulled these remarks from an Art News article in 1958. We can get a sense of De Kooning’s immense knowledge of art and also his ability to encapsulate that knowledge in brief, oddly humorous remarks. These were taken from an interviewer accompanying him around the Metropolitan Museum (I believe it was the Met anyway):

De Kooning that Rembrandt and Rodin are near each other and though separated by centuries they seem part of the same world.

The idea that art can come from nowhere is typically American–I call it painting made out of John Brown’s body–like Frank Lloyd Wright–and you can quote me.

Being anti-traditional is just as corny as being traditional. What’s so wrong with being eclectic? A man does a painting and they jump on him for being ‘eclectic’ as if it was a terrible crime–a moral sin.

There’s nothing impossible for art. Of course certain great figures–Rubens or Velazquez–closed off their own pictures. But nothing is done.

Interviewer: What do you think of M (a magic realist painter who works in a tight 19th century style.)?

Well, I don’t think he understands what he’s doing so very well. I was reading Kierkegaard and I came across the phrase “to be purified is to will one thing.” It made me sick.

Art shouldn’t be fanatical. People forget how young the dadaists were when they were saying “to hell with art.” They were just in their twenties. And it was a belated age of reason, an eighteenth century idea that just caught up with painting at the end of the first World War. Painters are bound to be involved in painting. Old and new we are just one thing.

Interviewer: What about Duchamp and his painting of the Mona Lisa with the mustache on it. (Note: Actually it wasn’t a painting, but a reproduction.)

Maybe Duchamp’s just not an art lover.

I used to make imaginary portraits from Ingres and Le Nain. I never did copies.


We get a wonderful example of De Kooning’s laconic wit when he does in Duchamp with that simple sentence.

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54 Responses to Willem de Kooning 2

  1. trueoutsider says:

    De Kooning was quoted as saying that he wanted to be a synthesis of Chaim Soutine and Ingres. One can well see that in his work.

    Here’s Soutine’s Bird at Rest from the Art Institute of Chicago:

    And a de Kooning, Police Gazette 1955. I’m not sure how it got the title but de Kooning often used newspapers to soak up excess oil and often the newsprint and color images would come off in the paint. I might be able to find one where that happens. :

    Here are a couple de Kooning pencil drawings of his “imaginary portraits” after Le Nain and Ingres.

    • johnk823 says:

      These are some awesome pencil drawings, especially for sitting figures. The facial expressions speak slap you right up against the head,that for sure.

      The Police Gazette looks like hats, badges and guns, at least pieces of them. But, most of all look at the colors used, they are awesome to look at, and he used just the right amount of black st set thing off.

      And that Bird at Rest looks like he’s at rest for life, I think its dead, but a colorfull kind of dead. The blues and reds and yellows are to die for, litterly!

      • trueoutsider says:

        John, keep in mind that the Bird at Rest is by Chaim Soutine, who was the guy that set the fire under the behinds of painters like De Kooning. And Soutine was obsessed with Rembrandt. We can get into that another time when we do a thread on Soutine. Also, picture the painting at 38 x 24 inches. Not at all the same scale that de Kooning pushed expressionist brushstrokes to.

        And recall that de Kooning’s doing those portraits from imagination, as he describes them. I think the top one is his imaginary portrait of Elaine. She’s a stunner, that’s for sure.

    • johnk823 says:

      Here is a link to Chaim Soutines “Little Girl”


      This gives a pretty good depiction of how he used his paint and brushes with the human figure. The colors are fasinating and the picture has a certain peacefulness to it.

      • trueoutsider says:

        Thanks for finding that pic, John. I think it a really beautiful painting. The paint is so sensual. It transmits the feel of flesh rather than depicting the look of it. That kind of flowing and sensual movement of the paint is clearly what de Kooning took for his own way of working with it. The lushness of paint itself.

        When I viewed the Resnick closely at the museum in Ottawa I could smell the oil in the paint. I can’t remember ever being able to actually smell the oil in a painting other than that experience with Resnick’s painting.

  2. trueoutsider says:

    aha. Here’s a little detail from Gotham News. Interesting. You get such a good look at the canvas here, which looks to me like a medium weave linen, not cheaper cotton duck..:

    As far as the absurd notion that de Kooning knew little about technique and was slapping paint around that I’ve heard expressed elsewhere, here’s a quote from Susan F. Lake, Willem de Kooning: The Artist’s Materials (thanks to Steve, for bringing this book to my attention).”

    Despite Brealey’s dire prognosis, most of the paintings of he 1960s examined for this study have maintained much of the vibrancy they must have had when there were first executed. ….

    Although the paints of de Koonings’ paintings from the late 1940s and 1950s tend to be brittle, most of the works from this period examined by one of the authors (Lake) are in good condition. This may be due to the fact that many of them are executed on solid supports or on paper that has been solidly mounted. Only one of the works of this decade included in this study has a surface coating as a result of a conservation treatment, and the application of a varnish to these works would surely be antithetical to de Kooning’s aesthetic intentions.

    The author goes on to mention quartz and glass fragments embedded in the paints, as well as plaster of Paris mixed in.

    In descriptions of samples of various paintings the binding medium is poppy oil or a safflower/linseed mix. De Kooning was a wet on wet painter, like the Impressionists and so the choice of these oils was no doubt for the longer drying time they gave him.

    In paint and ground samples we also find barium sulfate and clay. The black pigment in the 40s paintings is sulfur, which is presumably what was in the enamel paints he used.

    In Gotham News, where the detail above is from, the drying oil was castor oil. Apparently, in the 1950s de Kooning, having money advanced to him by his dealer was able to move to artist grade paints, most probably Lenny Bocour’s Bellini paints which had significant amounts of castor oil added to the traditional binding oil and made the paint much slower drying and thus more workable for de Kooning’s needs as a painter.

    Some of the cross sections of paint layers look like multicolored lava flows- a fantastically rich paint.

    Lake notes that sympathetic critics like Louis Finkelstein and Thomas Hess were aware that de Kooning had a great love for his new homeland, and the paintings feel like a walk down the streets of Manhattan. The addition of the newsprint transfer and materials like plaster, charcoal, ground glass, quartz, calcite, paper, fiberboard and inexpensive enamels, sign paints and housepaints can be seen as visual metaphors for the gritty textures of the Village and lower East Side.

    Much of the work of the photographer Aaron Siskind fixes on the elaborate textures of American cities

    • johnk823 says:

      I love this painting rigt here. I’m getting ready with a new canvas to paint a old metal cross arm of an old bridge that I took a close up photograph of that has some awesome detail of the rushing layers. I took the picture a couple of years ago on a trip to Georgia, can’t remember the towns name right now, but it was one old bridge, and trains still cross it. They were thinking about tearing it down, as word had it from a local person, and so I have about 20 pictures of this bridge. Hope it turns out as good as the picture above.

  3. johnk823 says:


    Are you saying that he used the newspaper to soak up excess oil that was in the paint he used? I use a telephone book for this same reason, and I always have one sitting next to my easels. They work great for this and you just tear out the sheet asyou use them up and throw them away. It is also good for wiping off your brushes and palette knives when they are loaded with paint. Make sure you first rip of the top cover page and then your all set. The good thing about the phonebook is that they are free, you get them every year, so you don’t have to ever worry about running out of them.

    • Steve says:

      Now why didn’t I think of that? On my mail route I deliver four sets of phone books to every customer every year. When I walk into the back door of the post office and see cages and bins of phone books, my heart sinks. But now I can see them ( or at least one of the books ) differently. Of course, it’s the perfect paint-wiping solution. Alright.

  4. trueoutsider says:

    John, yes. It also helped to keep the paint wet longer because it would seal it off from oxygenation, much like if you sealed a paint jar with a piece of oiled paper.

    I used to use phone books for wiping the ink off etching plates. You can take off the ink whatever surface you want to leave in terms of plate tone. I’ve also used them as you describe. Cheap and free. But most of the time I have bundles of rags from torn shirts, old socks, sheets, etc. And also use them to rub off paint or to add paint to a painting.

    Bacon used to use socks to throw at or press into the surface of his paintings to give him the kind of chance arrangement wherein he could see what he wanted to do with a portrait. You can often see the striations of the sock in the paint.

    You can faintly see them in this one if you look around the jaw area.

  5. johnk823 says:

    I like to use fumed silica in my paints that I mix sometimes. The paint takes longer to dry, unless I use it with a lean alkyd medium (Chroma Archival Lean). It does, however, create a nice liquidy, creamy emerald glowing paint and is quite brilliant, especially with Napthol Red, Azo Yellow or Hanza Yellow and Ultramarine Blue. You can see it in the section of the painting that I sent you. I use this wet in wet with a special oleous resin that I first apply over my ground. The results is pretty fantastic in itself as you can tell.

  6. trueoutsider says:

    John, you and me both on the fumed silica. I’m into the longer drying time as well. I use safflower and poppy and walnut oil in various combinations. I do think it looks really glistening in the digital image. I can only imagine what it looks like in person. I like the Azo red. I’m just about to get some napthol red from Blue Ridge. They’ve got a free tube of it when you order $100 plus in materials. I’ve long been curious about it.

    Can you say more about the oleous resin you use? I don’t use much resin in my paint currently. Nor have I used any alkyd mediums for probably 20 years.

    • johnk823 says:

      Bart, I have half a pound of the Napthol Red and it is a powerhouse of red, let me tell you, it is awesome. It is a bit hard to wet, but once you get it wet you can mix it how ever you like. Very brilliant red and asI remember it is semi transparent. You will love it for sure.

      I never have used poppyseed oil, but do use walnut and a small amount of safflower oil. I have a special mix I created to mix with my oil colors I make and the end result is a matt finish. I control gloss in the end of my painting with different varnishes I make with damar crystals, balsam oil and NP wax medium. I never use a high gloss on any of my work, because of the glair when trying to view the artwork.

  7. johnk823 says:

    I have another good things here for throwing paint like what you are describing, that I have used in some fresco work at Disney World, and that freebee is Spanish Moss. Plus you can just leave it on the wall for growth effects. We had to give some aging effects on a building ad to do so, took the spanish moss, submirsed it into a bucket of paint and let it sit in the bucket for a few minutes to soak up the paint, took it out and slightly rung it out just so it wasn’t running all over the place, through it on the wall and then sprayed it a bit with a spray bottle to get the paint to slightly start running down the wall and then left it there to dry. The end result was an acceint years old effect like moss growing on the building which looked like years of rain had run environmentals down the wall. I don’t know if I have pictures or not, but you probabally know what I mean.

  8. trueoutsider says:

    That’s a new one on me. I’ve tried all manner of getting the work started. Often if paint is built up I scrape it down and that gives a good surface to work into with interesting qualities of blur. You can see those often underneath de Kooning’s overpaint and in other artists as well that scrape off good sized areas of wet paint. Guston did it all the time. I remember seeing a film of Guston where he’d squeeze out half a 140ml tube of Cad Red Medium. Just like Resnick said in the little film clip…. “I love to waste paint.” Those guys were deep into the paint. Guston generally covered the scraped areas back over, whereas with de Kooning you can see down through multiple layers. De Kooning was about the most controlled and elegant of that generation of painters. That’s my opinion, anyway.

    I’m trying to find a good color photograph of him, but you can see a bit of his set up. Look at the rhythm and control of those long flowing lines. He knew how to get that paint to just the right viscosity and how the surface would be primed to get that ease of movement. You gotta go with the flow, bro!

  9. trueoutsider says:

    Here’s a beautifully painted early figurative work painted during the Great Depression before he went into the abstract work. Man, 1939 (oil on paper, mounted on board, 11″ x 19″. I wish I knew where that painting was. I’ve only seen it in reproduction. He destroyed almost all of his early work. De Kooning was a kind of perfectionist. On top of that he seems to have hardly cared what happened to his work after he was finished with it, giving stuff away at will early on. He also let Rauschenberg famously erase one of his drawings, which Rauschenberg exhibited as “Erased De Kooning.”

    • johnk823 says:

      This piece is actually quite nice andhas a warm, as well as a cool feeling to it. I love the color choices and the flow of the painting. It is a nice pose and the facual expression is very surreal to an extent. The hand almost have a story of their own to tell. He did a great job of how it is all blended together and the blurriness of the light colors draw you into the room. Has a bit of a Turner Pentworth interiors feeling to it. Very nice find for sure.

    • Steve says:

      Destroying one’s work is a very spiritual act. I’m not saying uplifting, but spiritual. I burned one of my best oil paintings one time. It was a fairly large nude portrait of my first wife when she was pregnant with my son. For many years the painting was relegated to closets and garages because the family was embarrassed to have it shown in our home. I could never get them to understand what the nude means in art. All they knew was that this nude was ‘KNOWN’ and verbotten. So one day , after one more discussion about the painting with one of my kids, I took it outside to a burn pile that I had going in the yard and threw it on top of the flames. For an agonizingly long time, nothing happened, and I even thought of retrieving it from the fire. But then the image, which was face-up , began to darken, then blacken, and then it exploded! A loud pop and flames blew a hole right through the center of it. It was like those old film strips that used to get stuck on a single frame in school projectors and melt on screen. I had lost art work before, thrown it away, ruined it, but this was different, this was a spiritual experience. I’m not really sorry about the lost painting, but to this day I’m deeply saddened that my family never understood it, and this is the killer: they never will. That event has affected the way I view my own art and myself as an artist ever since. It made me realize some important things, namely that I can’t really paint for anyone but myself. It wised me up but good, and this wisdom is more important than that painting. Maybe De Kooning , or any painter who destroyed his / her art, felt that feeling and got that wisdom.

      • trueoutsider says:

        I hear you, Steve. I’ve destroyed hundreds of paintings and even more drawings. Not in ritualistic fashion so much as you describe. But just letting them rot in big piles. I have no regrets about any of them. I have some early work at my nephew’s that he wanted to keep. But that’s the liberating thing. You don’t want to get attached in those early phases to what you’re doing. That’s what I keep trying to preach to these kids trying to make Old Masterpieces with cautious and neurotic methods. The point is to get your inner vision harnessed and that happens through experimentation and movement. Not through careful preparation and holding on.

        I hold all those paintings in my head and I have a lot of slides of them. That’s enough. I play them back often. And that’s even more interesting. The image inside my head of great numbers of lost paintings.

        But you have to let go of earthly attachment. I was reading the same thing about De Kooning. Even in late age they couldn’t get him to pay any attention to his legacy. He just could have cared less about anything except the painting that was right in front of him at the moment. I see that as the way it has to be. At least for me.

      • johnk823 says:

        Wow, now that was pretty heavy! I personally have never burnt a painting, but can relate to your thoughts as to the spiritual relationship you had with your painting. I have a spiritual relationshipwith every painting I do. I wasn’t aways so, as I use to give them away for free to family and friends, and afters years of them moving, closeting them or putting them up in their garage raffters, they would end up burning them or throwing them away. So, now they get no more of my paintings, because like your family, they didn’t know how to appreciate the art, or as far as that goes, respect for the work of the artist, which happened to be me. So, here to you Steve, I know what you mean, it is very spiritual.

  10. johnk823 says:

    The olious resins are basically immixtures that you can make right at home with either sandarac, mastic or copal with either turpintine or linseed oil. There are many recipes in many of the treasties like Cenninni’s, etc. The key is boiling them together right with the right amounts and testing them as you go until they become stringing, then they are done and ready to be used for mediums or varnishes. Cool them down and put in clean jars or bottles. You can also used them as immixtures with oil wetted pigments in the paint making process. Again, like anything else this is something you have to experiment with to get the results you are looking for. The can all be thinned with turpintine to the desired consistency you are looking for as an end product. Use the end product with the fumed silica to make a gell if you like so you can add the gel to the paint on your palette or to your pigments when making paint. There are so many choices it is endless, really!

  11. trueoutsider says:

    Thanks, John. Here’s a De Kooning portrait I’ve never seen before. Portrait of Jack Greenbaum.

    • johnk823 says:

      This guy looks like he is hanging by the neck or something. I like the freedom and the ease of color in it. As you can tell, I’m not very good at discription when it comes to the work of others. I do feel his freedom of motion in the painting, but I could never be able to tell what was in his mind when he was painting it. I’m sure he could tell me a great story about the painting though.

      • trueoutsider says:

        The work looks somewhat uncharacteristic to my eye. It almost reminds me more of Elaine’s work. She had a de Kooningesque style that’s nowhere near his, but is imitative of it. The funny thing is that when I first saw it, I thought it might be a portrait of Pollock. The two of them had a very odd relationship with each other. They were the two most visible and for that reason in competition. But they both lived near each other in the Hamptons and would often get together. De Kooning was the guy who had to give Benton the news of Pollock’s death. Quite a story, that one.

        Here’s one of her portraits so you can see what I mean. Who’s that guy she’s painted? He looks familiar.

        She’s not a bad painter. But you can see the difference between the lushness and complexity of de Kooning’s paint handling and the typical expressionist gestures of lesser painter.

        Take a painter like Susan Rothenberg. The brush marks are just hacked at angles. There’s none of de Kooning’s sweeping grace. And no awareness of how to get the paint the proper viscosity. It’s like she and Elaine are just using house painter strokes, which in fact they are. They don’t know how to draw with paint strokes. It’s the calligraphic grace of the line we see not just in De Kooning, but in Pollock and Guston and Kline.

        The paint of Rothenberg has none of the flow, energy, control, or drawing ability of painters like de Kooning, Guston, et al. The drawing ability is the key. The next generation of abstract expressionist painters did not know how to draw. They weren’t allowed the training. And so just tried to take off by copying De Kooning’s manner. That doesn’t work. It’s that simple. You can’t paint well, if you can’t draw well. De Kooning and company were immensely disciplined. And that included Pollock. Unlike the caricatures presented of Pollock, he became an excellent draftsman over time and his late paintings show it.

        I’m not trying to pick on Rothenberg. This goes for an extraordinary number of expressionist painters as well. Many of them have their own merits. And some are closer to de Kooning’s achievement. I can post as we go along. But I wanted to just give some idea of the man’s sophistication and accomplishment and the height that was reached by this generation of painters.

  12. trueoutsider says:

    Aha. Here we finally have a color picture. Can’t really see the supply table at all but you get a sense of how he composed the paintings. See all those vellum overlay sheets and the paper up on the canvas. He’d paint those sheets and them put them up in collage form getting a sense of where he wanted the painting to go structurally.

    You can see how elaborate and complex his visual process was by looking at what he’s doing there. Also note the color chart on the wall. De Kooning was the opposite of throwing paint around aimlessly and wildly, as the abstract expressionist painters have been caricatured. There was nothing aimless about Pollock, Kline, or Resnick either.

  13. johnk823 says:

    That’s what I need, a nice big work space. Most of my pieces are on 18″ x 24″ panels and I have three easels in a 9′ x 11′ room in my condo. I am packed to the ceiling with art, paint and brushes and have about a 5′ circle of floor space to work in and sometimes have a folding stand in the middle of that for working on sculptures and doing flat work like watercolor and acrylics. I make it work, but his work space is just totally awesome to me. I’m going to go cry now.

    • Steve says:

      Me too John.

      • trueoutsider says:

        John, Here’s a big workspace you might want to try given that you’re in a warm climate. These Hockney paintings were all done outdoors. He had separate panels that were manageable and combined them into one large painting. A really innovative and interesting way to make mural scale landscape paintings in plein air. Note also, of course, that he’s not painting what he sees in a photographic way. The colors and compositions are clearly invented. Just like what is known about Cezanne, Pissarro and the rest. They moved things around that they were looking at in order to suit the composition. They weren’t painting an exact rendition of what was in front of them. Neither were the Old Masters.

  14. trueoutsider says:

    I have some terrific pictures in my other art books of his studio with the big bowls of paint he mixed up using the recipe Bocour gave him for safflower and kerosene, although he substituted the kerosene with something else at some point. But he’d whip the paint up until it was really frothy. When it hit the surface of the painting it has and explosive quality. And I’m sure, knowing his early methods, that he was probably mixing different additives in for different paint quality. You can see all this when you see those late paintings. But you have to see the paintings themselves. They’re the most otherworldly paint effects that I’ve ever seen. I can post any number of other expressionist type paintings and none of them have remotely the same thing happening with the paint that de Kooning does.

    He’d gained an immeasurably rich knowledge of how paint behaves at that stage in his life. You can see him acquiring it all the way as he goes along.

  15. Steve says:

    I love that red & yellow ‘vortex’ painting above, with a generic face at the center and the elongated body at the left caught up in it. It has the energy of a propeller at full speed, which goes around so fast it begins to look like it’s standing still. Paint doesn’t get much more alive than that. I’ve just finished ( or almost finished framing a pastel and a watercolor ) and those will be the last under-glass paintings I do for awhile. I want oil paint, and de Kooning & Renoir are prodding me with a maulstick.

  16. johnk823 says:

    The Elaine above isof President Kennedy and very well done to say the least. I like her color combination as it give a sense of relaxation of him sitting there feeling at ease.

    The painting below it gives me a semi sense of amother and childkind of feeling, like the child is being put to bedfor a rest. Kind of like viewed from overhead.

    • trueoutsider says:

      John, I’m much more critical than you of the Elaine. Probably because of all that art school background. What hits me with her work is that she’s fudging everything. Look at the hands on Bill’s painting of the depression era man. How well articulated and expressive. Then look at the hands on the Kennedy portrait. She’s fudges the shape of the shoes. No form there. No interesting paint handling to compensate for them.

      The leg has a right angle rather than the natural bend of a leg. It’s sloppy paint. I saw that kind of sloppy painting for years and it’s where the art of painting slid because of lack of discipline or intensity or vision. It’s easy painting. The painter gets away with murder by aping a popular style.

      Elaine’s painting is like typical “expressionist” magazine illustrations. Like Leroy Nieman. That was Nieman’s whole shtick for Playboy etc. It’s lazy as hell artwork on the level of Thomas Kinkaid.

      Man, am I a hardass critic. Keep me away from teaching art students. I’d be as bad as Guston.

      Neiman’s actually an okay draftsman. But he’s putting the color on senselessly. The abstract expressionists didn’t use paint senselessly. Stallone’s whole physique is a mess and those blotchy colors in the background are just idle decor. He should paint them all out and then maybe he could start to make sense of the figure spatially. I think it’s exactly how you described your friend. People like to buy color. Nieman is giving them every kind of ingratiating color he can think of. Aqua, pink, yellow ochre, lavendars. Look at that aqua green between Stallone’s eyebrows. What’s that doing there? I have no idea why there’s a notch in the thing. Frank Stella influence?

      That lazy eye thing is driving me crazy as well. There’s not a single refinement in that painting. Nothing is scraped out or redrawn. It’s just thrown down slapdash. Arrogance, as Resnick would say. Pure arrogance.

      Does this guy even know push / pull or anything about how color behaves? No. That chest is a nightmare. Now I can’t even go to sleep. I might jolt awake screaming.

      • johnk823 says:

        As to the Elaine if this is her style and technique then it would be simular to this Neiman of Stalone. What I see is they are using the color to make a statement of lights and darks, shadows and highlights and using a particular person in mind as a subject matter for the works creation, which they actually pulled off.

        No it’s not a Rembrandt painting, but rather, it is just a suggestion of a well known person, based only on colors. They are using some of the background colors and reflecting those colors into the forefront figures, as if light is bouncing around the room and landing on them at some point in time of the work.

        I find it more impressionistic than I do abstract expressionistic, but maybe it is a new combination of both from their minds eye. We can give them a new name ourselves. I will call them “Colorillism” with characterizations of bending color and form with no thought to detail while leaving an identifiable subject as the final work, as viewed through the spiritual minds eye.

        Now, hopefully we have just created a new art catogory in the wonderful worldof art for those who like this style and technique. Although, I may not paint this way, I don’t find it offersive to the subjects portrayed, but rather colorful and interesting.

      • trueoutsider says:

        The way I view Neiman is that he’s quite similar to Andy Warhol in their histories as well as in their commercial styles. There’s no real evolution once they get their styles. They both came from doing fashion illustration. They both use bright flat pleasing color with no modulations of the colors. They both loved the night life and liked to boogie. Neiman at the playboy mansion I think. Warhol at Studio 54. I’m not that up on the night life, but that’s the sense I have of their lives.

        The LA Institute of Contemporary acknowledged their similarity by putting them together in a show of their sports paintings back in 1981.

        Warhol’s “ideas” and his far more diverse output were what put him in the fine art category. But as the LA museum shows the work itself bears little distinction from that of Neimans in their visual similarities. I seem to recall that it was a “controversial” show, matching a great fine artist like Warhol with a commercial artist like Neiman, which is one of those great ironies the contemporary art world is so keen on. I think the visual achievement is pretty slender. They started out as commercial illustrators and I see no difference between their commercial illustration and their “fine art”. All kinds of labels and theories can be affixed to any art but it’s the pure visual quality that determines if it will stand the test of time. It really doesn’t matter what Turner’s theories or ideas were. Nor does it matter what Monet’s ideas or theories were. When you look at a piece of visual art it makes no difference at all what was in the artist’s mind or what he wrote as his artist statement or what all kinds of critics had to say. If what the critics said mattered, we wouldn’t be looking at any late Turner. Or any late Rembrandt. Their work, when not entirely ignored, was largely reviled except for a few dissenters. Same with van Gogh. Same with Cezanne.

        That’s how I see it anyway.

        If anyone has lost their mind they can pay $125 for the catalog of the Warhol/Neiman exhibition on Amazon.


      • Steve says:

        I once did a mural size stitchery for the town in Sweden where I lived. It was about 7′ x 14′ . I worked night & day on it because of a deadline; it was supposed to be displayed at the city hall. I had mountains of different colored yarns in the temporary studio that the city gave me to do it( support for the artist, huh? ). It had a theme of sorts: wild nature vs. the crucifixion ( don’t ask ). So I stitched like mad with several strands of yarn at a time in my huge curved needle, having to back up across the room for every stitch. I made bumps, knots, patterns, almost like a macrame’ . When it was finished I had the gall to send a photo of it to the National Gallery in Stockholm , hoping they’d like it ( I was young, what can I say?). And some guy actually took the time and care to respond. He did not like it, saying it was “… too decorative.” That was another of those rare great criticisms that hit me like a thunderbolt and raised my consciousness as an artist. Of course it was too decorative, that’s all it was. This is a lead-up to the above Stallone painting by Nieman. It’s too decorative. He got a really nice outline and a couple of tell-tale characteristics of Rocky, like the sleepy eyelids, then proceeded to fill the entire image, form and background with random color swatches. Beautiful color swatches, but they don’t say enough about the figure. There is some modeling, we can see Stallone’s physique, but it’s like the painter gave up on the figure and made a palette-picture. I think palettes are incredibly beautiful too, but they aren’t paintings, and neither is this picture.
        Bart, drink some brandy before going to bed and try not to think of the chest area or of Rocky yelling ” Adriennnnn!” from the ring to his girlfriend in the boxing audience.

  17. trueoutsider says:

    I had to add this. My old painting instructor popped into my head looking at the De Kooning depression era man.

    This was my main man as an undergraduate in Richmond. Milo Russell. Milo was an absolutely marvelous character and painter. The balance and clarity of his paintings were achieved by painstaking construction of where all those objects and forms would be placed. They were all imaginary portraits. Milo was an inimitable guy and completely original. He was always well above the fray.

    I love how the consideration he gives to the placement of every single object in the painting. How the white window frames are placed perfectly in relation to the head.

    I visited his studio a number of times, seeing how he constructed the paintings. The early stages were networks of lines, establishing ever more refined negative spaces and gradually adding color choices. Warm cool… warm.. cool. I wish I owned one of his paintings. We were going to trade and then I spaced out as usual.

    His work has a feel of timeless nostalgia and melancholy. Emotion, just as Matisse says, is at the heart of everything he painted.

  18. trueoutsider says:

    Here’s the only other one I could find. You can see through the curtains and on the table the blue networking of lines that I described above. He’s just left those traces in the background. This guy taught me more about painting than anybody I met subsequently. It’s what painting is all about as far as I’m concerned. The painter. The canvas. The vision. No vanity or arrogance or over display grabbing at attention. A kind of pure emotion. Beautiful color sense.

    • Steve says:

      These paintings by your old trusted instructor show the kind of orderly world that I wish I lived in. I hate clutter because every object is a thought to me, and a room crammed with objects becomes my brain crammed with thoughts. I don’t mind other people’s clutter as much as my own, and in my own home, that’s where it disturbs me. It’s just so nice to see these images of simplicity and and fair space. The things in these rooms take on a value that would be lost if there were twice or ten times as many objects. Each object gets it’s own considered thought. It’s a mental paradise for me. Plus that extremely delicate window cross behind both figures, the wooden molding separating the glass panes, seems almost like Russell’s signature symbol. The cross is too fragile and thin to hold glass, so it expresses something else other than structure for me, more like loving crosshairs that pinpoint for the viewer the most peaceful ( and melancholy ) scenes outside. There is sadness in these paintings, but the main quality I get from them is of a world seen by a gentle soul. I get the feeling that your early mentor Milo was a gentleman at the core.

      • johnk823 says:

        Steve, Yes, very simplistic. Very calming and gentle. No mass of nerve wrenching items scattered about. I like your thoughts on the window crosshairs, drawing you through the room and then moving you to the outside, when again seems to be another peace and calm. Just a very plain and simple life with no frustration or confusion involved. And, just maybe, that was exactly the statement he was trying to communicate, while so many others artists were painting and displaying all the confusion of life, he just kept his view simple. A great message to send!

  19. johnk823 says:

    Bart, Correct me if I am wrong. I believe I had read something somewhere that Milo did very much the same kind of painting almost everytime, basically always had a figure sitting in a room and different pieces in the room. If this is true, wasit maybe himself and maybe a wife he continually painted? Did he loose his wife maybe and was lonely and kept paint him and his wife over and over or wer these all different people/

    The reason I asked is because maybe you could tell us more about his life and his story with his artwork. I see good perspective in the paintings and on my screen the colors are kind of soft, yrt seem to be well balances as to the over all painting.The paintings them self, as to the characters seem to be some what sad with their big eyes and very subdued in their emotion.

    I’m trying to figure out what this may have all meant to his vision in his work. Help!

  20. trueoutsider says:

    Steve/John, I tend to think of Milo as a European in the manner of someone like Giacometti or Modigliani. He’s trying to capture some kind of feeling state. Who the figures are and what they mean is a mystery just as with those two Europeans. He also did a lot of landscape paintings with oil pastels. They have the same general feeling and palette. I never asked him about the meaning of the paintings. I prefer the mystery. The enigma as di Chirico referred to it. The figures are enigmatic. I would imagine they were quite real to Milo. That’s how I see the figures I do. Lucian Freud said something about his portraits not being paintings of people but being people themselves. That’s how I view all really good paintings. I remember my first experience with this large Corot at the National Gallery of Art in the evening when they used to keep the Museum open (before we had to cut government). That Corot was a real as any of the Museum guards. I’m probably pretty much a lunatic at this point. I’ll stand in front of paintings like that and I’m not looking at a Rembrandt self-portrait, I’m looking at Rembrandt. It only works if you get them alone for a bit. The spell is broken by gawking crowds.

    I like work that is intimist. That’s meant to draw you into it. Not work that puts on a public display. Not the kind of exhibitionist mania that most painting looks like nowadays, strutting around and gesticulating wildly.

    I envy the Milo kind of painter, by which I mean the one who can use a limited vocabulary but obsessively explore it with profound results. Morandi and Mondrian would be other examples.

    Milo’s wife was around then. She and Milo were pretty opposite. She made him laugh a lot. I almost think of them like Jo and Edward Hopper on some level. The wife was voluble and dynamic. Whereas Milo was more like Hopper, quiet and thoughtful. He had a terrific wit and sense of humor. He’d kind of look up squinting at you with a little smile when he was making a joke to himself almost. Maybe a small bit reminiscent of de Kooning. You know, he was like any of those painters entirely immersed in his own vision. He was always trying something different in each painting. There was no repetition that I ever saw going on. Very unique work and completely Milo Russell.

    I have a little catalog of a retrospective that a lot of faculty put together in his honor. Milo never lifted a finger to try to get his work “out there.” He was pretty happy with his teaching and his wife and daughter. And his work. By that I mean that he was happy doing it, but never satisfied with what he had done. Like I say, someone like Giacometti— trying to get at something very central. Maybe Milo or Giacometti themselves didn’t know what it was.

    I remember going to a Giacometti in Mexico City in a rich suburb called Polanco. It was strange. There were almost no visitors. And that show was incredible. That’s where you really see an artist at their best and it rarely happens. Those Giacomettis were real as could be. I also saw the Guston Retrospective at Ft. Worth. I went for two days in a row. And I probably didn’t see more than 5 people.

    What I’d like to do is see if I can find the Milo book and if I can scan some of the images. He’s a completely forgotten painter. He was even forgotten when he was living. I lost touch with him a long time ago, as I tend to do with people. But I will always have the greatest affection for him because he gave so much of himself to any student that was interested.

    I do think he was painting himself. Just as I think that of Giacometti or Bacon. That’s why all the paintings look like Giacometti and Bacon. Goya the same, etc. Lucian Freud even said something to the effect that all his paintings were self-portraits. That’s to me, what differentiates a great artist from an average one. The work is uniquely that of the particular artist. They, in effect, reinvent portraiture for themselves. Lucian Freud’s and Bacon’s work when they arrived looked not at all like any other portraiture of the time. Same with Picasso, of course, who seemed to entirely reinvent figure painting. Just as de Kooning’s work looked like nobody else’s when he broke into that new space. His early portraits of those haunting depression men are also distinctly his

    • johnk823 says:

      Bart, see my response above to Steve on Milo. But yes, I think I would have enjoyed meeting Milo Russell. He must have been a fabulous teacher to be around. And, I believe this, its not how you paint, but what you paint and the message it conveys. I am mostly a landscape painter and try to convey a certain peacefulness in my landscapes. A place that you can feel you can ly down in the grass and relax and let all your care escape for the time you are in the painting. I just finished one and will take a picture and send it to you and Steve. I think you will want to walk into it and ly down and relax and let all your care go free for a time. It’s just that kind of feeling I tryed to capture and hopefully you will both feel, as well.

      • trueoutsider says:

        Thanks, John. I always look forward to seeing your work. Matisse: “What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter.”

      • Steve says:

        John…you want the same thing Matisse wanted! For a painting to be worry-free and “…comfortable, like an old arm chair…” to express delight and peace without showing the hard work that goes into making such art. A noble and lovely goal. I’m gonna have to try that someday.

    • Steve says:

      Bart…Milo sounds as wonderful as his paintings look. Thanks for introducing us to another great heartfelt & mindful painter. He does seem very European. The dehumanized American version might be someone like Ben Shaun ( who I think honestly recorded the hollowness of our culture ), but Milo retains an old-world humanity with a strange kind of soft hope and compassionate observation. His paintings make me feel like life is okay, or that it can be okay, a bit like Chagall makes me feel. That’s pretty darn good.

    • Steve says:

      Bart…you said something here that is crucial and which I need to comment on before our swiftly moving stream of posts takes me around the bend in our discussion and I forget. It’s about portraits not being paintings of people but the people themselves, and that when you stand in front of a Rembrandt self-portrait you are seeing Rembrandt, not a painting. This is so true, and also it separates painters from the average viewer in the way art is viewed. (Shoot, it probably even separates the few painters who experience paintings as realities from most artists who don’t ). Seeing paintings as objects of decoration on a wall is the prevalent manner of viewing art by almost everyone. I think most folks who like art and go to galleries and museums to see it, don’t see it, but rather have a feeling stirring way down inside that pulls them through the showrooms. They are not aware of this feeling, it’s almost unconscious, but it is the reason they are there in the first place. But they pass up every opportunity to get in touch with this buried reality by viewing the great paintings in front of their eyes as passing squares & rectangles that are either pretty or ugly depending on their sense of decoration. They are not visiting a friend or loved one or meeting a great soul. This is a sweeping generalization, and almost an indictment, to which there are exceptions,…not everyone in a museum is stupid. But most are distracted. They are tired and eager to move on and get to the museum cafe for a $20 tuna sandwich. It’s an odd phenomena. How to breach that yawning gap between seeing paintings as decor or as living reality? I’m not sure. I think one must become very engaged in life on more than the surface level; find the current beneath the waves. That is not an entertaining thing to do, in fact it’s risky business. People probably feel inherently afraid of that. Heck, it scares me too. But the alternative of becoming numb & dumb is more frightening. Why are we born on this earth? Security and safety are powerful desires. Rimbaud hated winter time, he called it “…the season of comfort…”, meaning that comfort is all everyone is after when it’s cold and dark outside. It’s understandable. But still, I don’t think artists ( or anybody ) can afford to stay in where it’s warm and cozy forever. Rembrandt didn’t have central heating in his house in Holland,…you can see that in his face.

  21. Steve says:

    Bart…perfectly put description of the Soutine portrait that John found : “…transmits the feel of flesh rather than depicting the look of it….” That’s the whole difference in a nutshell between painting and photo realism, in my paint-prejudiced view. I would love to see this painting in person, or any Soutine painting. As a side note, Soutine was a neighbor of Henry Miller’s in Paris in the 1930’s. Imagine those two spirits moving around each other!

  22. johnk823 says:

    I don’t know about worry free, but I do try not to worry. I use to worry alot and that never got me anywhere. I use to wonder what everyone thought about the paintings I do, regardless of style or technique, but now I welcome their views, as long as it is constructive. Everyone has the right to a view, an opinion, everyone has them, even me. Letting others views interfear in our view of our own self can be damaging to oneself only by choice.

    I believe when we think we are hurt by others, is it not because we made the choice to let their words hurt us and so that is how we feel – hurt, or could we turn it all around and choose- OK! That’s their opinion, I can live with that, but I don’t have to take their opinion and choose it as my own. It’s just words and anothers thoughts. Maybe we should choose to find out why they have that opinion, are they really trying to hurt your feelings or give me some objective advice, where are they coming from and are they willing to sit down and give me their thoughts, what in the painting (or other artwork) made them feel this way about it and what could I have done to provide a better relationship for them with the painting, and so on.

    Everything is a choice, but we don’t always stop and think about the choices we make, so sometimes we allow different things in life to affect us in different ways. It is a payment for not using our heads, or a setup for self destruction. Tther is always the old addage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names (words) can never hurt me”. This statement is what I like to look at as childlike, we should never stop that kind of childlikeness in our lives.

    But yes, a noble and lovely goal is to paint what one feels from within and don’t worry about what anyone else thinks about it because we are all totally unique individuals. We all tend to have our own unique comfort zones that work for us, but should never be afraid to set out of them. One paints this and the other paints that, one does it this way and another does it that way, one uses this style and another uses that style, but I like to create. We either have the gift of painting or we don’t, but we all have some kind of gift, and the key is in finding what the gift is and making it work for us.

    Peace, Love and Joy, these are gifts as well – One can never go wrong when applying these gifts in all things that they do. These are the gifts that make me who I am and how I try to convey things to others. Just an old man sitting in his rocking chair with a big smile on his face reading a book. Dead to the sins of this world. What can they do to me? I already nailed myself on the cross and so the adventure continues!

    Blessings, John

    • Steve says:

      John…a very soulful post with genuine heart-tugging feeling. Thanks. But in response to your “old man in a rocking chair” image, check out this music video:

  23. Holly says:

    Don’t know if anyone will rejoin this comment stream but I have a Milo. My mom was an art student at VCU in the 60’s. She and my dad later bought one of his paintings. My husband and I like it so much that we’re about to use it to choose all the colors for our house. Later in life, as a widow living alone in a small house, she wouldn’t hang it because she said the figure’s haunting look “bothered one of my friends.” Hmmmm. Found it out in the damp garage and saved it. Don’t know how to include an image of it in a reply but can furnish one on request (after I finish all this moving nonsense)

  24. trueoutsider says:

    Holly,…. I’m always on the job to answer comments. Never fear! Hey, I’d love to see an image of the painting whenever you have time to take one. Yes, Milo’s work can be very disturbing to certain people who don’t want to have contact with deeper realities…. Rembrandt’s portraits can have very unsettling properties if one is really looking at them over periods of time. I find that kind of work comforting…. but most others obviously don’t. They prefer not to confront the work of art, which is to confront themselves on a deep level.

    There is next to no art in galleries or museums anymore. What you have are jokes, entertainment, empty decorations, inflated pseudo-philosophy and theory. If art is any good at all… if it is even to have the beginnings of a meaning the artist has to have the guts to reveal the deepest parts of himself. With the kind of smarmy corporate art we see nowadays, that simply isn’t possible…. So that kind of art exists either underground nowadays or in the deep shadows, which is perhaps fitting given the kind of commercial hyper-Capitalist culture that has largely co-opeted every area of American life. Why would art be any different from the franchise nothingness of contemporary life? It certainly isn’t if it participates in it rather than acts in opposition to those values.. When paintings become Andy Warhol/Frank Stella type investment commodities… endlessly reproducible and indistinct from one another in any meaningful way… they’re no longer art at all, much less great art. They’re simply corporate brands. Strip away all the empty jargon written by and about Frank Stella and what you have is pure corporate art, devoid of any human characteristics whatsoever. They should more likely be shown at IKEA than in art museums. Same with Warhol.

    While Milo wasn’t a great artist, in the sense of a Rembrandt, he was a damn good one. And there have been precious few American artists like him. Congrats on having one of his paintings. I’m envious.

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