Last modified on 2 June 2014, at 22:47

Willem de Kooning

Willem de Kooning in his studio.

Willem de Kooning (24 April 190419 March 1997) was an abstract expressionist painter, born in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Together with Jackson Pollock he became leader of the American Abstract expressionism. In the beginning he was strongly influenced by Picasso and Cubism, later by w:Chaim Soutine. He was closely befriended with Arshile Gorky, and later with Franz Kline.

SourcedEdit

1940sEdit

  • Art never seems to make me peaceful or pure. I always seem to be wrapped in the melodrama of vulgarity. I do not think... of art as a situation of comfort.
    • Beyond the Aesthetic, Robert Motherwell, Design 47, April 1946, as quoted in Astract Expressionist Painting in America, W.C, Seitz, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1983, p. 101
  • Jackson has broken the ice for us.
    • His comment on Pollock’s drip paintings, first shown at Betty Parsons gallery, 1948
    • Abstract Expressionism, David Anfam, Thames and Hudson Ltd London, 1990, p. 130
  • The texture of experience is prior to everything else.
    • 1948, in the period of making his ‘Excavation’
    • Abstract Expressionism, David Anfam, Thames and Hudson Ltd London, 1990, p. 150
  • When, about fifteen years ago, I walked into Arshile’s studio for the first time, the atmosphere was so beautiful that I got a little dizzy and when I came to, I was bright enough to take the hint immediately. If the bookkeepers think it necessary to make sure of where things and people came from, well then, I came from 36 Union Square ... I am glad that it is about impossible to get away from his powerful influence.
    • ART news, Vol. 47, no 9, January 1949
    • Address of the studio of Gorky that time

1950sEdit

The attitude that nature is chaotic and that the artist puts order into it is a very absurd point of view, I think. All that we can hope for is to put some order into ourselves.
- Willem de Kooning, 1950
  • For really, when you think of all the life and death problems in the art of the Renaissance, who cares if a Chevalier is laughing or that a young girl has a red blouse on.
    • The Renaissance and Order (1950) Trans/formation, vol. 1, no.2, 1951, pp. 85-87
  • There is a train track in the history of art that goes way back to Mesopotamia. It skips the whole Orient, The Mayas, And American Indians. Duchamp is on it. Cézanne is on it. Picasso and the Cubists are on it; Giacometti, Piet Mondrian, and so many... I have some feeling about all these people – millions of them – on this enormous track, a way into history. They had a peculiar way of measuring. They seemed to measure with a length similar to their own height.. ..The idea that the thing that the artist is making can come to know for itself, how high it is, how wide and how deep it is, is a historical one, - a traditional one I think. It comes from man’s own image.
    • De Kooning’s lecture Trans/formation at Studio 35, 1950
  • I admit I know little of Orient art. But that is because I cannot find in it what I am looking for, or what I am talking about. To me the Oriental idea of beauty is that ‘it isn’t there’. It is in a state of nor being there. It is absent. That is why it is so good. It is the same thing I don’t like in Suprematism, Purism and non-objectivity... I do like the idea that they - the pots and pans (in the old still lives) , I mean – are always in relation to man. They have no soul of their own, like they seem to have in the Orient...
    • De Koonings lecture Trans/formation, at Studio 35, 1950
  • ‘Nature then, is just nature. I admit I am very impressed with it. The attitude that nature is chaotic and that the artist puts order into it is a very absurd point of view, I think. All that we can do for is to put some order in ourselves. When a man ploughs his field at the right time, it means just that.
    • De Koonings lecture Trans/formation, at Studio 35, 1950
  • But one day, some painter used 'Abstraction' as a title for one of his paintings. It was a still life. And it was a very tricky title. And it wasn’t really a very good one. From then on the idea became something extra. Immediately it gave some people the idea that they could free art from itself. Until then, Art meant everything that was in it – not what you could take off it. There was only one thing you could take out of it sometime when you were in the right mood – that abstract and indefinable sensation, the aesthetic part – and still leave it were it was...
    • De Koonings speech on the symposium, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 5 February, 1951
  • The aesthetics of painting were always in a state of development parallel to the development of painting itself. They influenced each other and vice versa. But all of the sudden, in that famous turn of the century a few people thought they could take the bull by the horns and invent an aesthetic beforehand. After immediately disagreeing with each other, they began to form all kinds of groups, each with the idea of freeing art... The question as they saw it, was not so much what you could paint, but what you could not paint. You could not paint a house or a tree or a mountain. It was then that the subject matter came into existence as something you ought not to have.
    • De Koonings speech on the symposium, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 5 February, 1951
  • I am always in the picture somewhere. The amount of space I use I am always in, I seem to move around in it. And there seems to be a time when I lose sight of what I wanted to do, and then I am out of it. If the picture has a countenance I keep it. If it hasn’t, I throw it away.
    • Modern Artists in America, First Series, R. Motherwell, Ad Reinhardt and B. Karpel eds., 1952 p. 12
  • (in the Italian Renaissance) there was no ‘subject-matter’. What we call subject matter now, was then painting itself. Subject matter came later on when parts of those works were taken out arbitrarily, when a man for no reason is sitting, standing or ling down. He became a bather, she became a bather; she was reclining; he just stood there looking ahead. That is when the posing in painting began... For really, when you think of all the life and death problems in the art of Renaissance, who cares if a Chevalier is laughing or that a young girl has a red blouse on.
    • The Renaissance and Order Trans/formation 1, 1951, as quoted in Abstract Expressionist Painting in America, W.C, Seitz, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1983, p. 113
  • Kandinsky understood ‘form’ as a form, like an object in the real world; and a object, he said, was a narrative – and so, of course, he disapproved of it. He wanted ‘his music without words’. He wanted to be ‘simple as a child’. He intended, with his ‘inner-self’ to rid himself of ‘philosophical barricades’ (he sat down and wrote something about all this). But in turn his own writing has become a philosophical barricade, even it is a barricade full of holes. It offers a kind of Middle European idea of Buddhism or, anyhow, something too theosophical for me.
    • De Koonings speech on the symposium, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 5 February, 1951
  • I still think that Boccioni was a great artist and a passionate man. I like El Lissitsky’s painting very much. But Mondrian that great merciless artist, is the only one who had nothing left over. The point they all had in common was to be both inside and outside at the same time. A new of likeness!... for me to be inside and outside is to be in an unheated studio with broken windows in the winter.
    • De Koonings speech on the symposium, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 5 February, 1951
  • Some painters, including myself, do not care what chair they are sitting on. It does not even has to be a comfortable one. They are too nervous to find out were they ought to sit. They do not want to ‘sit in style’. Rather they have found that painting – any kind of painting, any style of painting – to be painting at all, in fact – a style of living, so to speak. That is where the form of it lies. It is exactly in its uselessness that it is free. Those artists don’t want to conform. They only want to be inspired.
    • De Koonings speech on the symposium, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 5 February, 1951
  • The sentiment of the Cubists was simpler. No space. Everything ought to keep going! That’s probably the reason they went themselves. Either a man was a machine or else a sacrifice to make machines with ... Personally, I do not need a movement. Of all movements, I like Cubism most. It had that wonderful unsure atmosphere of reflection – a poetic frame where something could be possible, where an artist could practice his intuition. It didn’t want to get rid of what went before. Instead it added something to it. The parts that I can appreciate in other movements came out of Cubism... It has force in it but it was no 'force-movement'.
    • De Koonings speech on the symposium, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 5 February, 1951
  • The potato seems like a Romantic (organic) object... you can watch it growing if you don’t eat it. It is going to change – grow, rot, disappear. A pebble is like a Classical thing – it changes little if any... If it was big you could keep the dead down with it.. ..The Classical idea is not around much anymore
    • Artist Club, 22 February 1952, as quoted in Abstract Expressionist Painting in America, W.C, Seitz, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1983, p. 102
    • Comparing in a discussion at the Artist’ Club the potatoes of Vincent Van Gogh to the pebbles of Jean Arp.

1960sEdit

  • You know the real world, this so-called real world, is just something you put up with. Like everybody else. I’m in my element when I am a little bit out of this world. Then I’m in the real world – I’m on the beam. Because when I’m falling, I’m doing all right. When I’m slipping, I say: he, this is interesting. It’s when I’m standing upright that bothers me.
    • film script Sketchbook 1, Time inc; 1960
  • I met a lot of artists – but then I met Gorky. I had some training in Holland, quite a training, the Academy. Gorky didn’t have that at all. He came from no place; he came here (US) when he was sixteen, from Tiflis in Georgia, with an Armenian upbringing. And for some mysterious reason, he knew lots more about painting and art – he just knew it by nature... He had an extraordinary gift for hitting the nail on the head; very remarkable. So I immediately attached myself to him and we became very good friends. It was nice to be foreigners meeting in some new place.
    • interview conducted by David Sylvester for the BBC, 1962; as quoted in Abstract Expressionism, Creators and Critics, edited by Clifford Ross, Abrahams Publishers, New York 1990, p. 44
  • Certain artists and critics attacked me for painting the ‘Women’, but I felt that this was their problem, not mine. I don’t really feel like a non-objective painter at all... It’s really absurd to make an image, like a human image. With paint, today, when you think about it, since we have this problem of doing it or not doing it. But then all of a sudden it was even more absurd not to do it. So I fear I have to follow my desires.
    • interview conducted by David Sylvester for the BBC, 1962; as quoted in Abstract Expressionism: Creators and Critics, edited by Clifford Ross, Abrahams Publishers, New York 1990, p. 45
  • The ‘Women’ had to do with the female painted through all ages, all those idols, and maybe I was stuck to a certain extent; I couldn’t go on. It did one thing for me: it eliminated composition, arrangement, relationships, light – all this silly talk about line, colour and form – because that was the thing I wanted to get hold of.
    • interview conducted by David Sylvester for the BBC, 1962; as quoted in Abstract Expressionism: Creators and Critics, edited by Clifford Ross, Abrahams Publishers, New York 1990, p. 45
  • Today artists are in a belated age of reason. They want to get hold of things. Take Mondrian; he was a fantastic artist. But when we read his ideas and his idea of Neo-Plasticism – pure plasticity – it’s kind of silly. Not for him, but I think one could spend one’s life having this desire to be in- and outside at the same time. He could see a future life and a future city – not like me, who am absolutely not interested in seeing the future city. I’m perfectly happy to be alive now.
    • interview conducted by David Sylvester for the BBC, 1962; as quoted in Abstract Expressionism: Creators and Critics, edited by Clifford Ross, Abrahams Publishers, New York 1990, p. 47
  • The pictures (I have) done since the 'Women', they’re emotions, most of them. Most of them are landscapes and highways and sensations of that, outside the city – with the feeling of going to the city or coming from it. I am not a pastoral character. I’m not a – how do you say that? – ‘country dumpling’. I am here and I like New York City. But I love to go out in a car... I’m just crazy about going over the roads and highways.
    • Interview conducted by David Sylvester for the BBC, 1962; as quoted in Abstract Expressionism: Creators and Critics, edited by Clifford Ross, Abrahams Publishers, New York 1990, p. 48
  • Now I can make some highways, maybe. Of course there will be something else. Now I can set to do it, and then it will be, maybe it will be a painting of something else. Because if you know the measure of things – for yourself there is no absolute measure – you can find the size of everything. You say now that’s just this length and immediately with that length you can paint, well, a cat. If you understand one thing you can use it for something else. That is the way I work... I mean I have an attitude. I have to have an attitude.
    • interview conducted by David Sylvester for the BBC, 1962; as quoted in Abstract Expressionism: Creators and Critics, edited by Clifford Ross, Abrahams Publishers, New York 1990, p. 48
  • I feel now if I think of it, it will come out in the painting. In other words, if I want to make the whole painting look like a bottle, like a lot of bottles - for instance maybe the end of the day, when everything is very light, but not in sunlight necessarily - and so if I have this image of this bottle and if I really think about it, it will come out in the painting. That doesn’t mean that people notice a bottle, but I know when I succeed in it – then the painting would have this.
    • interview conducted by David Sylvester for the BBC, 1962; as quoted in Abstract Expressionism: Creators and Critics, edited by Clifford Ross, Abrahams Publishers, New York 1990, p. 49
  • I make a little mystique for myself. Since I have no preference or so-called sense of color, I could take almost everything that could be some accident of a previous painting. Or I set out to make a series. I take, for instance, some pictures where I take a color, some arbitrary color I took from some place. Well, this is gray maybe, and I mix the color for that, and then I find out that when I am through with getting the color the way I want it, I have six other colors in it, to get that color; and then I take those six colors and I use them also with this color. It is probably like a composer does a variation on a certain theme. But it isn’t technical, it isn’t just fun.
    • interview conducted by David Sylvester for the BBC, 1962; as quoted in Abstract Expressionism: Creators and Critics, edited by Clifford Ross, Abrahams Publishers, New York 1990, p. 50
  • I feel sometimes an American artist must feel, like a baseball player or something - a member of a team writing American history..
    • Willem de Kooning (1969) by Thomas B. Hess, Content Is A Glimpse, excerpts from an interview with David Sylvester, (BBC), Location, vol.1 no.1 Spring 1963

1980sEdit

  • the word ‘abstract’ comes from the light tower of the philosophers ... one of their spotlights that they have particularly focussed on ‘Art’ ... (abstraction was) not so much what you could paint but rather what you could not paint. You could not paint a house or a tree or a mountain. It was then that subject matter came into existence as something you ought not have.
    • Willem de Kooning, MOMA Bull., pp. 4, 6; as quoted in Abstract Expressionist Painting in America, W.C, Seitz, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1983, p. 104
  • What fascinates me about Van Gogh is that his sun dries up everything. Maybe he was melodramatic but my point really is ... if you are a painter you have to face that self-consciousness. You get dirty and pathetic; very miserable. It makes me self-conscious to talk about it. There is something corrupt on art. Nothing do with any ‘ism’ but a thing in nature loses its innocence and becomes a grotesque thing ... maybe this difficulty is personal with me, and maybe it is something that other painters have in common. Perhaps it is also something of today. (conversation with W.C. Seitz)
    • ’’Abstract Expressionist Painting in America, W.C, Seitz, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1983, p. 121
  • The point they (Lissitzky, Rodchenko, Tatlin, Gabo, the neo-Plasticists, and so on) all had in common was to be inside and outside at the same time ... For me, to be inside and outside is to be in an unheated studio with broken windows in the winter, or taking a nap on somebody’s porch in the summer.
    • Willem de Kooning, MOMA Bull, pp. 7,6, as quoted in Abstract Expressionist Painting in America, W.C, Seitz, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1983, p. 134
  • Man’s own form in space – his body – was a private prison; and that it was because of this imprisoning misery – because he was hungry and overworked and went to a horrid place called home late at night in the rain, and his bones ached and his head was heavy.
    • Willem de Kooning, MOMA Bull, pp. 7,6; as quoted in Abstract Expressionist Painting in America, W.C, Seitz, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1983, p. 135

1990s and attributed from posthumous publicationsEdit

  • And then there is that one-man movement, Marcel Duchamp — for me a truly modern movement because it implies that each artist can do what he thinks he ought to — a movement for each person and open for everybody.
    • Quoted in A Brief History of American Culture (1996) by Robert M. Crunden, p. 279
  • I think I would choose Soutine... I've always been crazy about Soutine - all of his paintings. Maybe it's the lushness of the paint. He builds up a surface that looks like a material, like a substance. There's a kind of transfiguration, a certain fleshiness in his work... I remember when I first saw the Soutine’s in the Barnes Collection... the Matisse's had a light of their own, but the Soutine’s had a glow that came from within the paintings - it was another kind of light.
    • The impact of Chaim Soutine (1893-1943): de Kooning, Pollock, Dubuffet, Bacon, publisher: Hatje Cantz, Galerie Gmurzynska, Cologne (Köln), 2001
    • Answer on the question who is his favourite artist, probably made around 1977.
  • I had my own eyes, but I wasn't always looking in the right direction. I was certainly in need of a helping hand at times. Now I feel like Manet who said, "Yes, I am influenced by everybody. But every time I put my hands in my pockets I find someone else's fingers there."
    • As quoted in Willem De Kooning, 1904-1997: Content as a Glimpse by Barbara Hess, 2004

About Willem de KooningEdit

  • In the days before de Kooning establishing himself formally as a painter, Willem de Kooning had a variety of experiences that helped him to define himself. His influences by friends and the times were surprising. Of the singular influences was his relationship to music: "In the early thirties, ... de Kooning made one astonishing and symbolic purchase. Just when the Depression was destroying the livlihood of millions of people, including that of many artists, de Kooning bought the best and most expensive record player money could buy - a miraculous machine that could summon "God and all those angels up there." Called a Capehart high-fidelity system, it was one of the first to change records automatically. It cost then the prodigious sum of $700, more than half of de Kooning's annual salary at A.S. Beck; he got an advance to pay for it. With this purchase, de Kooning announced that he would not use this money to make himself conventionally respectable, even during the hard, early years of the Depression. He did not buy a house or a car, get married, have a baby, or stash away money against hard times. Instead, he professed himself sublimely irresponsible, a man nourished by music rather than mundane realities. And yet, it was still music rather than art that prompted his expansive gesture, for he could not yet find a comparable fluency, vitality, or extravagance in art."
    • M. Stevens & A. Swan (2004) De Kooning. An American Master, New York: A.Knopf. p.92

External linksEdit

Wikipedia
Wikipedia has an article about: