Gesture and Movement

De Kooning Untitled 1983

“It’s the play of time and space through pigment and gesture that I’ve found so interesting. Through the movement of a mark you can travel to the innards of the painting or drawing and then follow the movement right back out. When you keep the paint wet and run other pigment through it, the gesture is forever frozen in a moment of becoming. It’s as though the paint is still live, even after it dries. I try to use these possibilities in the painting of figures, for example to get that feeling of delicate skin underneath the eye socket by running two or three tones wet into wet. By working like this and keeping the paint fluid, you create multiple nuanced tones that would be impossible to mix individually. The gesture and movement of painting actually creates those color tones. It’s exciting to work like that, because you work from the nature of the medium and the nature of yourself, in the moment.” [Jenny Saville on de Kooning]

De Kooning Gagosian Installation 2013

“Pared down to essentials, the smooth surfaces of the paintings are layered with a range of prismatic colours with toned white and pastel areas. Moving from ribbons and arabesques to a spirited bold use of lines and forms that carry clarity and strength, de Kooning’s palette shifts in tandem through the decade. In many 1980s paintings, distinct abstract shapes are suggestive of an elusive figuration and landscape, with elements reminiscent of earlier decades. As a starting point and way to generate ideas, de Kooning began with charcoal drawing on these canvases as he had done throughout his career. De Kooning moved in and out of drawing and painting, making for his calligraphic and ever changing canvases.” [Skarstedt Gallery on Dekooning]

De Kooning Untitled XXIX 1983

“Western painting, in general, went molten in the Dutchman’s oven. Clement Greenberg, in 1955, called de Kooning’s pride “Luciferian.” “Were he to realize all his aims,” the imperious critic wrote, “all other ambitious painting would have to stop for a generation since he would have set both its forward and its backward limits.”
Such dominance was not to be, as Greenberg, to his satisfaction, already knew. (He and de Kooning despised each other.) The rules of avant-garde painting had changed. Conceptual control supplanted de Kooningesque lyrical invention. Jackson Pollock and the other “big picture” Abstract Expressionists had, without necessarily intending to, sparked a revolution in art as design: painting that is substantially complete in its initiating idea. Then came Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Frank Stella, and the era of what the critic Harold Rosenberg acutely but too dismissively called art works as “packages.” Rosenberg’s indignant championing of de Kooning—whose practice he had exalted in his gaudy existentialist theory of “action painting”—did the artist no favors in the new, tough-minded art world. When radicals pronounced painting dead, there was no doubt about whose funeral they fancied. De Kooning’s isolation in contemporary art after 1960 or so accounts for the orphaned air of his late work. A larger historical shift explains the work’s sudden authority. All the cocksure movements of the last century have collapsed into a bewildering, trackless here and now. This condition turns out to be de Kooning’s perennial garden.” [Peter Schjeldahl on de Kooning]

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