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De Kooning: The Artist's Artist Who Influenced a Movement Without Trying

De Kooning: The Artist's Artist Who Influenced a Movement Without Trying

By: Lauren Royer

Cover Image: "North Atlantic Light" by Willem De Kooning, photographer unknown

"You're De Kooning! You're De Kooning!", my Grandma exclaimed, turning heads at the restaurant we were at. I had just shown her my latest completed painting which she then explained was eerily like the works of Willem De Kooning. After a quick google search at our table I could see what she meant. Flattered but curious, I made a mental note to research De Kooning to ensure I wasn't the reincarnated version of him (I'm not, the timelines do not line up). The stylistic similarities did root deeper in me, the curiosity to learn about the Abstract Expressionism movement which apparently, is the style I've unknowingly incorporated while blowing off steam with my watercolors. 

Blowing off steam is a less fancy way of saying that I am exploring intense emotion on paper through 'action painting' which is when paint is spontaneously, dropped, splashed, or smeared onto a canvas rather than purposefully/carefully applied. This movement was BIG in the 40's and came straight out of NYC. An artist that generally takes the spotlight in this movement is Jackson Pollock. We all know about him. He's the guy that literally splashed paint onto a canvas repeatedly until he expressed... whatever it was he was wanting to express. De Kooning was eclipsed by Pollock in the movement, and I don't think he minded that at all.

"Clam Diggers" by Willem De Kooning

"Clam Diggers" by Willem De Kooning

A Dutch-American artist, De Kooning, didn't seem to be deeply intertwined with the idea of being part of a movement or labeled as one category. A non-conformist individual whose vast career really began by rejecting the stylistic norms of the time (think Regionalism, Surrealism, and Cubism- i.e. Picasso). Ironically, it was because of his affiliations with the New York school (Pollock included), Abstract Expressionism was defined and a movement was born. The style was meant to create emotive, abstract gestures. De Kooning was quoted to say: "I'm not interested in 'abstracting' or taking things out or reducing painting to design, form, line, and color. I paint this way because I can keep putting more things in it - drama, anger, pain, love, a figure, a horse, my ideas about space. Through your eyes it again becomes an emotion or idea."

Willem de Kooning in 1950; photograph by Rudy Burckhardt

Willem de Kooning in 1950; photograph by Rudy Burckhardt

Described as an 'artist's artist' on multiple reputable source pages on the internet, it becomes apparent that beyond his aversion to being 'boxed' into a category, he understood the purpose of art. Art as a whole must be categorized and organized even though, the very underlying reason individual art exists is to sort through the indefinable. De Kooning inspires artists that need to make art for art's sake. When floating away from the movement he helped foster, he began painting many female forms and landscapes (because why the hell not). He also dabbled in lithography and sculpting and was noted to be curious and always looking to change up his style or techniques. He didn't allow himself to be stagnant in one style, even at the expense of losing the respect of some of his colleagues. It was because he never stopped exploring and expanding the possibilities of his craft, that he influenced artists/viewers from all over the world. So, if I am following in the footsteps of Willem De Kooning, possibilities are endless but only if I am willing to expand and change- and I can live with that, for art's sake.

Top half is Willem De Kooning’s painting. Bottom half is the author’s painting

Top half is Willem De Kooning’s painting. Bottom half is the author’s painting

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