William DeKooning

Willem De Kooning Willem De Kooning had been widely acknowledged as one of the greatest painters of this century known for his daring originality. Several exhibitions in the U.S. and abroad have celebrated the artistic achievements of this eminent artist's 60-year career. This essay covers part of his early life with real focus on his late paintings. His last works, painted in the 1980s, as he was in deteriorating health have come under criticism by some critics. Willem de Kooning was born on April 24, 1904 in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. His father was a beer distributor and his mother ran a bar. At the age of twelve, he became an apprentice at a commercial design and decorating firm. He studied for eight years at Rotterdam's leading art school. In 1926, de Kooning secured a passage on a streamer to the United States, illegally entering and settling in New Jersey. He quickly moved to Manhattan, painted signs and worked as a carpenter in New York City. Then in 1935, he landed a job with the Works Progress Administration, a government agency that put artists to work during the Great Depression. By the next decade, he had attained a place in the downtown art scene among his fellow artists. By the late 1940s, de Kooning along with Arshile Gorky, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman, began to be recognized as a major painter in a movement called "Abstract Expressionism". This new school of thought shifted the center of twentieth century art form Paris to New York. Willem de Kooning was recognized as the only painter who had one foot in Europe and one in America. He combined classical European training in Holland with a love for popular American culture. The restlessness and energy of American life was a source of great inspiration and passion for him. Gary Garrells, the chief curator at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art said, " He had the wildness of Pollock but mixed with the impeccable craftsmanship of the European tradition. He was not interested in style, he was interested in the process of looking and knowing and getting under the skin." Willem de Kooning, 93, was the last survivor of his famous peers. One would not have predicted for him a great old age. Among the leading figures of hard-living generation, he belonged by temperament and talent to a romantic tradition of artists who burned the physical and psychic fuel of themselves with devastating speed and completeness. Few of de Kooning's closest friends and colleagues survived the harshness of the 1940s and 1950s. In 1948, Arshile Gorky, De Kooning's mentor for his studio on the eastern end of Long Island, committed suicide at 48. In 1956, Jackson Pollock at the age of 44, killed himself in a drunken roadside collision. In 1962, Franz Kline gave himself away to a heart attack at 52. Three years later David Smith died in a car crash at 59 and in 1970 Mark Rothko, slit his wrists while battling ever-deepening alcoholic depression. Willem de Kooning was the principal member of the Abstract Expressionism. Abstract Expressionism gave birth as a reaction to years of struggle against conservative taste, improvised circumstances and reinforced by confused feelings created after World War II. De Kooning was celebrated for his ferocious Women painting in 1950s. In 1956, he took a break form Women theme, and started to paint small, packed shapes with a feel for city. Woman merged into an urban landscape filled with small, interchangeable parts of the metropolitan environment. In 1963, he began a new series of Women. He painted women on tall door panels. De Kooning's art was of mutually exclusive contradictions without the resolution of synthesis, of harmony and balance. By the end of 1970s, he had reached a point of near total spiritual exhaustion- partly due to heavy drinking and partly for a tendency to forgetfulness and a gradual detachment from the world around him. Much was said of Kooning about his last drawings, " as a doodling of a helpless old man," but the reality was quite different. De Kooning succumbed to Alzheimer disease in late 1970s. According to Peter Schjedahl, in his essay, De Kooning later life was compared to King Lear in Shakespeare's play. It is said of him , " The wonder is, he hath endures so long./ He but usurped his life." Peter