Willem de Kooning

Willem De Kooning, one of the recognized masters of Abstract Expressionism, was a founder of the New York School-Action Painting. Born and raised in Holland, De Kooning created art that is the antithesis of calm. His paintings seem to retain the force of instantaneous creation, with images continuing to grow out of other images.



Untitled, circa 1965

oil on newspaper

22 x 27.5 inches



Born in Rotterdam in 1904, De Kooning received a solid background in the applied arts as an apprentice, first for a commercial art firm and then for a display and sign painter. Through the latter, he was exposed to the de Stijl geometric design movement, led by Mondrian, and to the cubist revolutionaries of Paris. He studied painting in evening classes at the Rotterdam Academy of Fine Arts and Techniques. In 1924, he went to Belgium for further study; two years later, as a stowaway, he came to the United States, where he settled in Hoboken, New Jersey and supported himself as a house painter.

His early paintings were experimental. Although he admired the order and purity of Mondrian's work, his own showed no trace of it. In 1933, he became a friend of Arshile Gorky, with whom he shared an intense admiration for cubism and Picasso. It was not until 1948, however, that he was ready for his first one-man show of masterful black paintings with white-line drawing. That same year, his friend Gorky committed suicide. It was a stunning blow to De Kooning and yet, at the same time, a liberation. Paintings, sardonic and violent, began to pour from his brush.

In 1952, obsessed with interest in the human figure, De Kooning began a long series of paintings of women, the most powerful work that he had yet done.He explored this theme over and over again. Sometimes it was woman as sex symbol; other times, she is depicted as a repellent, sharp-fanged, horn-bosomed vampire. Each time, De Kooning seemed to attack the canvas savagely, letting paint drip and dribble down the surface. "Art never seems to make me peaceful or pure," De Kooning once said. "I always seem to be wrapped up in the melodrama of vulgarity."


The painting is dedicated to Tiny (William Douglas) McGee (1925-1999)

McGee was an artist and friend of deKooning who admired McGee for his artistic commitment. Both artists attended the historic Black Mountain College, which drove McGee's development as an accomplished artist. He is best identified by his early abstract oil paintings, mixed media collages, and large color field paintings exhibited in MOMA, the Dallas Museum of Fine Art, the Chicago Art Institute, etc. or through one man shows at galleries.

BLACK MOUNTAIN COLLEGE, the first American experimental college boasting complete democratic self-rule, extensive work in the creative arts, and interdisciplinary academic study, included among teachers and students: John Rice, Founder & Classics Scholar' Josef Albers, Painter; Charles Olson, Writer; John Cage, Composer; Buckminster Fuller, Architect; Merce Cunningham, Dancer & Choreographer; Robert Creeley, Poet; Jacob Lawrence, Painter; Willem de Kooning, Painter; Franz Kline, Painter; Robert Rauschenberg, Painter; M.C. Richards, Potter & Poet; Kenneth Noland; Robert Motherwell; Theodoros Stamos; William McGee; Kenneth Snelson; Ray Johnson; Cy Twombly. It is the site of the first geodesic dome built by Buckminster Fuller in 1948, of the first multimedia happening in 1952, staged by John Cage. Its publication, The Black Mountain Review, from 1954-1957, published influential authors including Beat Writer Allen Ginsberg.

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