A tour de force of Willem de Kooning’s gestural style, Easter Monday (1955-56) bristles with energy. Angled forms and lines collide, overlap and penetrate one another, while transferred newsprint, particularly visible at the bottom and top right, enforces a tenuous, grid-like structure. The work appears to be in simultaneous processes of creation and destruction, a perpetual state of both realization and erasure that finds some analogy in the continuous growth and decay of nature.
Named for the day on which de Kooning completed it in 1956, Easter Monday is the largest of ten monumental works that he exhibited that spring. Critic Thomas Hess likened the group to “abstract urban landscapes,” and Easter Monday does seem to reference the whirling pace and gritty detritus of the modern city.
Photographed as Part of the Exhibit, Epic Abstraction: Pollock to Herrera currently on extended view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.
In the mid-1970s, after skewering American political, social and cultural; mores with his work, Peter Saul (b. 1934) took aim at the art world. Saul executed a number of parody responses to Willem de Kooning’s Woman and Bicycle (1952-53, shown below). Here, Saul spoofs de Kooning’s contorted female figure with distortions of his own, rendering the face as a grotesque cartoon and crowding the composition with lurid Day-Glo forms that both draw upon and satirize Surrealist and Pop styles. At once homage and attack, this painting challenges art history, even while claiming Saul’s place within it.
A leading artist among the Abstract Expressionists, Willem de Kooning never believed that abstraction and representation were mutually exclusive. As he stated: “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.” Woman and Bicycle, one of a series of “Woman” paintings he made between 1950 and 1953, depicts a standing woman, whose form is clearly visible despite the painterly integration of her body into the surrounding field of non-objective marks. Although the female figure is one of the most traditional subjects in the history of art, the woman in de Kooning’s painting distinctly belongs to the 1950s. Her bright yellow dress, high heels, and garish smile — with a second toothy grin hanging below it like a necklace — reflect the glamorous pin-up girls and movie stars of the period.
French born artist Jean Hélion (1904 – 1987) painted Standing Figure at a time when he was a central proponent of nonrepresentational art in the United Stares. In 1936, Hélion was a founding member of the American Abstract Artists group, which counted among its members Willem de Kooning. In this painting, the body is interpreted in curved forms and shaded in tones of gray that resemble the metallic parts of a machine. Hélion’s depiction of the human figure is inspired by the quick-paced life of the city streets, and the presence of new technology in urban settings.
Photographed in the Metropolitan Museum on Art in NYC.
In the 1940s, Willem de Kooning (1904 – 1997), with his artist friend Arshile Gorky, frequented the Metropolitan Museum to study portraits by 19th-century French artist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. this seated figure, which belongs to de Kooning’s first series of Women paintings, demonstrates his interest in the human form. Awkwardly posed, the woman’s arms, legs and breasts exist as abstract shapes in a flattened space. Like other Abstract Expressionists, de Kooning was interested in portraying nature as simultaneously creative and destructive. Although the figure is recognizable as a woman, de Kooning arrangements of form, line, and color gives the effect of a body coming together and falling apart.
Photographed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.