artist Willem de Kooning was born on April 24, 1904 in Rotterdam
. His parents separated when he was 5 and he lived with his father
for while (they were very close) until his mother forced de Kooning to live with her. He showed interest in art
early on and began taking classes at the Rotterdam Academy of Fine Arts and Techniques
by age 12. He graduated as a certified artist in 1925.
The following year he migrated to the United States and lived first in Hoboken, New Jersey (while there he worked as a house painter) and then moving to New York City in 1927. The next decade of his life he spent earning a living as a muralist and sign painter, honing his skills in his personal craft in the evening and on weekends. During these years he met people such as Stuart Davis and John Graham. His first “group” exhibition took place in 1936 at the Museum of Modern Art, after having worked for two years on the Federal Art Project of the W.P.A. De Kooning’s first gallery exhbition was also part of a group show, held in New York in 1942 when he was 38 years of age.
During the 1930s, both de Kooning’s abstract and figurative work was mostly influenced by Cubism and Surrealism; the work of Picasso and Arshile Gorky in particular. In 1938 he first began his series focusing on women, which would become thereafter a recurring theme in his work. In the 1940s he began working with fellow artist who would form the New York School and become known as Abstract Expressionists. This group — which included Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still — were quite prominent in the 1940s and 50s and were considered the first truly American avant-garde. He did not have his first one-person show until 1948, which took place at the Egan Gallery in New York, and this helped to establish de Kooning as a major artist.
De Kooning married painter Elaine Marie Fried in December of 1942. Over the years the couple often seperated, living apart for extended periods of time, though they spent more time together towards the end of his life.
After de Kooning’s Women of the early 1950s, he focused on creating abstract urban and rural landscapes, then returned to painting women in the 1960s. In 1968 he visited the Netherlands for the first time since 1926 and opened a retrospective at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. He created first sculpture pieces, which were modeled in clay and later cast in bronze, in 1969 — and during the early 1970s the artist began a series of life-size figures.
Though his work may appear spontaneously created, de Kooning actually spent months on a single piece quite often. Art critic Harold Rosenberg applied the term "action painting” for the first time to de Kooning’s passionate slashes of color and busy backgrounds. His later work focused primarily on employment of color and light; by the 1980s de Kooning’s style took simpler forms, in which he worked most often with orange, blue and red hues. In this work he took much of his inspiration from Matisse.
Eduardo Chillida and Willem de Kooning received the Andrew W. Mellon Prize in 1979. He resided at East Hampton, Long Island from 1963 on. In 1997 de Kooning was honored with a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He had been a hard drinker throughout the majority of his life but stopped drinking alcohol during his later years. The artist developed Alzheimer’s in the 1980s, forced to quit his artistic endeavors in 1986, and died on Long Island on March 19, 1997.
On a personal note — for most of my life I never found great interest in abstract painting. During the past few years, however, I’ve developed a fondness for some of the work- particularly pieces by de Kooning and Basquiat. I intend to look at more of de Kooning’s work in the future, since so far all his pieces have struck me with intense emotions. Check out his strikingly powerful art if you get the chance.
Help for this node came from brain-juice.com.