Karel Appel

Dutch painter, sculptor, and poet
Karel Appel, 1982
Questioning Children - gouache on three dimensional wooden construction, 1949
sculpture on Spui square in The Hague - The Netherlands, c. 2008

Karel Appel - in sourced quotes of the artist. Karel Appel (April 25, 1921May 3, 2006) was a Dutch painter and sculptor. He was one of the early founders of the European avant-garde movement COBRA in 1948.


Contents

Quotes of Karel AppelEdit

1950sEdit

  • I don't paint, I hit.
    • quote circa 1958; from the movie 'De werkelijkheid van Karel Appel', Jan Vrijman; as quoted in De Tweede Helft, Ad de Visser, SUN Nijmegen, 1998


'Karel Appel, excerpt', c. 1953Edit

'Karel Appel, excerpt (c. 1953)', in Karel Appel, Painter, eds. Hugo Claus, Harry N. Abrams - New York, 1962; as quoted in Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art, eds. Kristine Stiles & Peter Selz, University of California Press, 1996, p. 209


  • My paint is like a rocket, which describes its own space. I try to make the impossible possible. What is happening I cannot foresee, it is a surprise. Painting, like passion, is an emotion full of truth and rings a living sound, like the roar coming from the lion's breast.


  • To paint is to destroy what preceded. I never try to make a painting, but a chunk of life. It is a scream; it is a night; it is like a child; it is a tiger behind bars.


  • It's like this - you are in front of your canvas, you hand holds the paint, ready, raised. The canvas waits, waits, empty and white - but all the time it knows what it wants. So - what does it want, anyway? My hand comes near, my eyes begin to transform the waiting canvas; and when - with my hands holding the paint and my eyes seeing the forms - I touch the canvas, it trembles, it comes to life.


  • The struggle begins, to harmonize canvas, eye, hand, forms. New appirations stalk the earth.


1960s & 1970sEdit

from 'Karel Appel, a gesture of colour' (2009)Edit

as quoted in Karel Appel, a gesture of colour, eds. By Jean-François Lyotard, Christine Buci-Glucksmann, Herman Parret, Leuven University Press, 2009,
  • At the very moment when my ego is unprooted [uprooted?] and freed of intellectual activities and values, the realization of what is still unknown and uncreated, the silent 'non-form' unity emerges, appearing as childish schizophrenia. The indefinable beginning takes form [quote, 1969]
    • ('CF', p. 32); p. 45


  • Something appears midway between order and chaos, these forms, these expressions occupy a middle position. [writing in 1973]
    • ('CF', p. 35); p. 67


1980sEdit

from 'Karel Appel, a gesture of colour' (2009)Edit

as quoted in Karel Appel, a gesture of colour, eds. by Jean-François Lyotard, Christine Buci-Glucksmann, Herman Parret, Leuven University Press, 2009,
  • A war is raging within me that burns everything. So I can begin again. [writing, 1982]
    • ('CF', p. 48); p. 83


  • Theories / are things.. ..Absence and inexistence / of theories are things. [note, 1983]
    • ('CF', p. 63), p. 55


  • The true artist has no style. Style is an exterior decorative element. The true artist as servant of his matter, transcends it with an absolute freedom. [quote, 1984]
    • ('ATV', pp. 188-189); p. 49


  • If the stroke of the brush is so important, it is because it expresses precisely what is not there. [1985]
    • ('CF, p. 44); as quoted in Karel Appel, a gesture of colour, eds. by w:Jean-François Lyotard, Christine Buci-Glucksmann, Herman Parret, Leuven University Press, 2009, p. 69


  • a sky of clouds completely 'out of the blue'.. ..I'm looking, reflecting, and when it suddenly happens: hey, the clouds, and what clouds![interview with Ischa Meyer, c. 1988]
    • ('RM'), 157; p. 41


'Karel Appel – the complete sculptures,' (1990)Edit

Karel Appel – the complete sculptures, eds. Harry de Visser / Roland Hagenberg, Edition Lafayette, New York 1990
  • The wastelands belong to my youth. When I was young I played in the outskirts of the city - watching the cranes at the harbour. There was no law but garbage, grass and wildflowers like boys and girls, rough, hot and sexual and full of hidden pleasures. Life and death are overlapping in the wastelands like in my paintings.
    • pp. 75-77 'Quotes', K. Appel (1989)
    • Appel's quote is referring to his youth in Amsterdam city, in the outskirts and the ports


  • You can see the roughness of structure and the spots like wounds from battles on the canvas. The tops of skyscrapers with windows like eyes constantly remind you that there are laws surrounding the wastelands, and so you hide in the deep grass when you make love to a girl in dirty clothes, and experience how your nerves of seeing become stronger and stronger and every little sound more and more intense. That's what Pasolini's poetry is partly about; he was a street guy and therefore I avoided beautiful new wood or metal for his sculpture.. .The wasteland was Pasolini's other side; the boys, the knives, the nights, the tensions.
    • pp. 75-77 'Quotes', K. Appel (1989)
    • quote is referring to the Italian movie-maker Pasolini


  • One of my first sculptures was made of bicycle parts. I was living at that time in a attic in the red light section of Amsterdam. I started to work without any specific materials. I was looking in the street like when I was a young boy, in the garbage cans, for ropes, wires, and paint. I left my parents in 1940. Years later I saw an exhibition of Kurt Schwitters at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam curated by w:Willem Sandberg and there I saw the real 'objet trouvé'; until then I had never heard about it. Schwitters was a shattering experience.
    • p. 79 'Quotes', K. Appel (1989)


  • I'm not a pessimist. Maybe I don't have a primitive feeling of happiness, that is true. Sometimes my color is happy but not the expression.
    • p. 85 'Quotes', K. Appel (1989)


  • our civilization is in a continuous state of self-repair. Maybe you have undergone surgery once. In former times you might have died. Today everybody can live on and on; everything around us is repaired, even the spirit. Look at the young artists. They only paint the façade and not the things hidden behind it. I don't say that life is lost its originality. I show straightforwardly the state of repair of civilization.
    • p. 85 'Quotes', K. Appel (1989)
    • quote is referring to his sculpture 'State of liberty'


  • As an artist you have to fight and survive the wilderness to keep your creative freedom. Creativity is very fragile. It's like a leaf in the fall; it hangs and when it drops you don't know where it's drifting.
    • p. 91 'Quotes', K. Appel (1989)


  • When I was young I once found a book in a Dutch translation, The 'w:Leaves of Grass'. It was the first time a book touched me by its feeling of freedom and open spaces, the way the poet spoke of the ocean by describing a drop of water in his hand. w:Walt Whitman was offering the world an open hand (now we call it democracy) and my 'Monument for Walt Whitman' became this open hand with mirrors, so you can see inside yourself.
    • p. 93 'Quotes', K. Appel (1989)
    • Appel's quote is referring to his art-work 'Monument for Walt Whitman', dedicated to the American poet.


  • As I said, in the Fifties I had the 'angst' (= Dutch for 'fear') to survive materialistically. In the city Paris it was a battle. I painted with a knife and called the results 'human landscapes', abstract landscapes with human faces here and there. Today I can do without fight or struggle; every brushstroke now is ready, goes by itself: la peinture depouillé you could say. I discovered that in Picasso's late paintings. You look very closely but there is nothing anymore. He painted here and there a little bit; it is not finished, but once you step back you see a fantastic image, life by itself. I'm not fighting anymore; I'm floating, surfing on the wind.
    • p. 95 'Quotes', K. Appel (1989)

1990s and undatedEdit

  • The w:Cobra group started new, and first of all we threw away all these things we had known and started afresh, like a child — fresh and new. Sometimes my works look very childish, or childlike, schizophrenic or stupid, you know. But that was the good thing for me. Because, for me, the material is the paint itself. The paint expresses itself. In the mass of paint, I find my imagination and go on to paint it.
    • In: 'Karel Appel, Dutch Expressionist Painter, Dies at 85', by Margalit Fox, in 'Art & Design', New York Times May 9, 2006
    • Quote of an oral history in 'Contemporary Artists' - Karel Appel describes the wild artistic urgency that gave rise to w:Cobra.


from 'Karel Appel – the complete sculptures,' (1990)Edit

Karel Appel – the complete sculptures, eds. Harry de Visser / Roland Hagenberg, Edition Lafayette, New York 1990
  • The duty of the artist is not to be calculating in any sense, so that he may be free himself of human emotions while carried by the universal forces of life. Only then does one not think about making art, or about styles, or directions. Something comes about, something happens.


  • Through play, we renew contact with childhood – My art is childlike.


  • [artists are people..] who employ matter between birth and death. Matter is something to use, not possess.


  • Knowledge isolates phenomena and things to observe with.. ..nothing is isolatable or can be removed from its environment. Anything which becomes isolated ceases to exist. It is like the violent refusal of someone to play a game in which everyone cheats.


  • The experience of the moment is what's important, and somehow the image, the 'thing' is left over.


  • My brush-strokes start in nothing and they end in nothing, and in-between you find the image.


  • Every day I have to be awake to escape.. .The whole world is sleepy. It is a real fight to be awake, to see everything new, for the first time in your life.


  • There exists an insanity that touches on a higher level, by knowledge or instinct. That insanity of life I try to put in my painting. It has nothing to do with any morals or laws. It is there and it is insane.


  • All the absurdity and hope are the stimulants to create. You make art to find a little hole to go on. You go through the whole to find the world again, and the absurdity is that still, somehow it is the same.. ..Hopelessness and hope are the same. It’s a very thin line you don’t see any more. I don’t believe in that line between hopelessness and hope today.


Quotes about Karel AppelEdit

  • Occasion is a good word: it speaks of an 'offered case'. The painter also lives on such plundering. Karel Appel is touched by a circumstance, and make paintings out of his feeling. Appel's work touches in turn those that encounter it, and they leap at the occasion to reflect on it. Art and thinking live on these, jostling.
    • w:Jean-Francois Lyotard (1990), in Karel Appel, a gesture of colour, eds. by Jean-François Lyotard, Christine Buci-Glucksmann, Herman Parret, Leuven University Press, 2009, p. 27


  • ..Appel does not hesitate to expose his colour to rubbish. More than any other this work returns 'aesthetic discourse to its precariousness: how could it articulate coloured things that so clearly result from a 'gesture' and are free from any finality. It is not the gesture of the painter, it is the gesture of painting, or painting as gesture that Appek opposes to thought.
    • w:Jean-Francois Lyotard (1990), in Karel Appel, a gesture of colour, eds. by Jean-François Lyotard, Christine Buci-Glucksmann, Herman Parret, Leuven University Press, 2009, p. 27


  • The painter is the first dancer of his work. Appel understands the appeal to disturb the finished work as he is in the process of making it. He drops his canvas, his paper, puts down his brush – that is to say, he resigns himself to the deposition of the gesture, as one gives in to fatigue by taking a break. He will soon begin performing again..
    • w:Jean-Francois Lyotard (1990), in Karel Appel, a gesture of colour, eds. by Jean-François Lyotard, Christine Buci-Glucksmann, Herman Parret, Leuven University Press, 2009, p. 47


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