Willem de Kooning

April 24, 1904- March 19, 1997

Dutch/American Abstract Expressionist

Education: Rotterham Academy of Fine Arts and Techniques

de Kooning in 1959 Walt Silver, Random House NPR: De Kooning: An American Master

When de Kooning arrived in America (from Holland he stored away on a ship to New York) he already had began his artistic journey. His first start to becoming a professional artist was by painting houses, he also worked on the WPA Federal Arts Project in 1935, where he painted murals.

His career is very easy to visibly trace to see the progression and stages that he underwent, ultimately leaving a legacy of being one of the key artist in the abstract expressionism movement. Although his work started out conservative, it became very abstract; he always maintained a control in the technique of his painting.

He was known to be quiet social, (by which I mean drinking, sleeping around, etc., etc). The most widely recognizable works of de Kooning are his Woman paintings. As described in the New York Times these paintings were “graffitilike style, with gigantic, vacuous eyes, massive breasts, toothy smiles and clawlike hands set against colorful layers of paint.” Many people and critics as well did not readily accept these paintings, as they were not completely abstract, de Koonings had suggestions of figuration in his work.

Interesting Quotes about de Koonings

[The figure has] the feeling of familiarity you have when you look at someone’s big toe, when close to it.

–Willem de Kooning, in an 1953 ARTnews article

Right from the start of his career, it’s not something as passive as chance. It’s not Duchamp dropping a thread. It’s extraordinary work where the discipline is relaxed right at the last moment. De Kooning was so well trained, such an obsessive technician, and yet he was willing to let go of it.

—  John Elderfield, the MOMA’s chief curator of painting and sculpture

The Museum of Modern Art has never known quite what to do with Willem de Kooning. You can package Jackson Pollock as drips and Barnett Newman as zips, but de Kooning, who painted both opulent abstractions and big, blowsy dames, resists easy branding.

— Holly Cotter, The New York Times

He wanted to open everything up, to bring — to squeeze — everything into art: high, low; old, new; savagery, grace.

— Holly Cotter, The New York Times

De Kooning is working in a sort of area which is representational but also abstract in that he’s ready to make marks and arrange forms which haven’t got a lot to do with their representational aspect.

— John Elderfield, the MOMA’s chief curator of painting and sculpture

De Kooning never settled into a single style. “You have to change to stay the same,” he would say, and following his own wisdom, he constantly reinvented himself.

— Liane Hansen, NPR art & design

Selected Works

Woman I, 1950-52 (oil on canvas)

Excavation, 1950

Woman in a Garden [checklist #32], 1971, oil on paper on canvas

Minnie Mouse, 1971, Lithograph on Arches paper

The Visit, 1966-7, Oil paint on canvas

Sources as well as other readings on de Kooning