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Willem de Kooning

American Painter and Sculptor

Movements and Styles: Abstract Expressionism, Action Painting, Works Progress Administration

Born: April 24, 1904 - Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Died: March 19, 1997 - East Hampton, New York

Willem de Kooning Timeline

"Art should not have to be a certain way. It is no use worrying about being related to something it is impossible not to be related to."

Willem de Kooning Signature

Summary

One of the most prominent and celebrated of the Abstract Expressionist painters, Willem de Kooning's pictures typify the vigorous, gestural style of the movement. Perhaps more than any of his contemporaries, he developed a radically abstract style of painting that fused Cubism, Surrealism and Expressionism. While many of his colleagues moved from figuration to abstraction, de Kooning always painted figures, most notably women, and abstractions concurrently, making no distinction between the art historical categories. De Kooning's real subject, he insisted, was space and the figure-ground relation.

De Kooning fused abstraction, figuration, and landscapes in various ways throughout the many long decades of his career, and his unceasing journey to find new forms and subjects made his overall output more eclectic than most of his colleagues. His engagement with popular culture was also unique and informed a host of post-war artists from the Neo-Dadaism of Robert Rauschenberg to the Pop Art of James Rosenquist, and younger painters such as Cecily Brown have explored the gestural eroticism of his later paintings.

Key Ideas

Unlike most of his colleagues, de Kooning never fully abandoned the depiction of the human figure. His paintings of women feature a unique blend of gestural abstraction and figuration. Heavily influenced by the Cubism of Picasso, de Kooning became a master at ambiguously blending figure and ground in his pictures while dismembering, re-assembling, and distorting his figures in the process.
Although known for continually reworking his canvases, de Kooning often left them with a sense of dynamic incompletion, as if the forms were still in the process of moving and settling and coming into definition. In this sense, his paintings exemplify Harold Rosenberg's definition of Action Painting - the painting is an event, an encounter between the artist and the materials, rather than a finished work in the traditional sense of painting.
Although he came to embody the popular image of the macho, hard-drinking artist, de Kooning approached his art with careful thought and was considered one of the most knowledgeable among the artists associated with the New York School. He possessed great facility, having been formally trained as a young man, and while he looked to the Modern masters like Picasso, Matisse, and MirĂ³, he equally admired the likes of Ingres, Rubens, and Rembrandt.
Willem de Kooning at the presentation of the 1968 Talens Prize, Amsterdam
Willem de Kooning at the presentation of the 1968 Talens Prize, Amsterdam

Insisting, "I'm not interested in 'abstracting' or taking out or reducing painting," Wilhelm de Kooning disdained any single style. His innovative work synthesized abstraction with figurative elements, as he said, "I paint this way because I can keep putting more and more things in - drama, anger, pain, love, a figure, a horse, my ideas about space."

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Willem de Kooning
Interactive chart with Willem de Kooning's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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Artists

Pablo PicassoPablo Picasso
Piet MondrianPiet Mondrian
Vincent van GoghVincent van Gogh
Chaim SoutineChaim Soutine

Personal Contacts

Arshile GorkyArshile Gorky
Stuart DavisStuart Davis
John GrahamJohn Graham
Harold RosenbergHarold Rosenberg

Movements

CubismCubism
SurrealismSurrealism
ExpressionismExpressionism
Influences on Artist
Influences on Artist
Willem de Kooning
Willem de Kooning
Years Worked: 1917 - 1991
Influenced by Artist
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Robert RauschenbergRobert Rauschenberg
Jack WhittenJack Whitten
Amy Sillman
Cecily BrownCecily Brown

Personal Contacts

Franz KlineFranz Kline
Jackson PollockJackson Pollock
Milton ResnickMilton Resnick
Elaine de KooningElaine de Kooning
Thomas B. HessThomas B. Hess

Movements

Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism
Neo-ExpressionismNeo-Expressionism
Contemporary painting

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Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 01 Jun 2011. Updated and modified regularly. Information
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