Sunday, December 19, 2004

If De Kooning Still Mattered

Don’t get me wrong, I love early-to-middle de Kooning painting (from the forties through to maybe the late-seventies). I remember being challenged, perplexed and thrilled at the Knoedler Gallery in 1975 with de Kooning's outrageous complexity and anti-aesthetic aesthetic. But soon thereafter, the fire went out…it was well-known that Bill had lapsed into a dementia or senility brought on by alcohol abuse, Alzheimer’s or something else and anyone with an eye could see that his paintings became simpler; thin and anemic and lacking in any vigor, rigor or lust that characterized the painting of the previous decades.
Yet, galleries and even museums showed these pseudo “De Kooning” paintings alongside his truly great masterpieces as if the proximity to the real thing would rub off on these dribblings by his sycophantic assistants. Schlock, mock and dreadful as these paintings are, I’m sure many people were taken in.
Now comes a new book De Kooning: An American Master by Mark stevens and Annalyn Swann
I look forward to reading it, I may even give to myself for xmas…

Full Disclosure: As a painting student of Joop Sanders ( a fellow Dutch ex-pat) we were tutored in the formal exigencies of De Kooningism which boiled down to a few simple dictates:
-Try using things besides a brush to “paint”
-Never make all four corners of a canvas the same
-Never close off your forms, literally or figuratively:
all shapes should be ambiguous and open to interpretation and also open in shape so as to shift from foreground to backgound in a constant dance
-Draw with the brush, avoid drawing and then “filling in the drawing with color”
That's it, now you too can paint just like De Kooning, which is what a lot of my fellow students were doing at that time. I found it hard to resist the strong pull of the sort of mystical regard and cultish fervor surrounding De Kooning and yet, following Groucho Marx's famous dictum "Whatever It Is, I'm Against It".

Related Reading (sort of)
"If Jackson Pollock Wrote Music"

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