Willem de Kooning, Two Figures in a Landscape 1967, oil on canvas, 70 x 80 inches (177.8 x 203.2 cm) Collection Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
Robert Linsley talks to Richard Shiff about Schiff's book Between Sense and de Kooning. The extensive conversation touches on many aspects of de Kooning and his career including his critical reception, his relationship to Cubism and Picasso, the slippage between abstraction and representation, the idea of finish, and painterliness.
Schiff remarks: "I think I argued explicitly—and in many places, implicitly—that de Kooning had no development in our usual art-historical sense of this term. He had continuity, not development. This is probably why it was so easy for him to shift direction (at least to us, it looks like a shift in direction, but since he had no direction, it wasn’t necessarily a shift for him). By shifting direction, I mean going from abstracted figuration to overt figuration, or returning to an old form to make a new painting, or even rummaging through historical imagery from the ancient world to the modern and from high art to commercial art and comic books to get his themes. He was serious when he said he was 'eclectic by chance.' This is a bit like 'deja vu all over again.' The title Between Sense and de Kooning refers to this lack of development, because 'sense' is logic, 'sense' is direction, and there’s something missing between this artist and the direction that we keep imputing to him because we want him to be more 'normal' than he was. Of course, 'sense' also refers to 'sensation.'"
As part of his blog series Paintings I Like Paul Corio reflects on the de Kooning retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and on how seeing the full range of de Kooning's oeuvre illuminates the "real problems" in painting.
"The real problems painting faced after Ab Ex and Color Field were the same problems that painting has faced for about 700 years... Periodically, you have to change the way you do it - you can't go on painting the way that the previous generation painted... DeKooning understood the ideas that were in the air at the time. He chose the ones that were useful to him and rejected the ones he had no use for. He mixed these together with his influences of the the recent and distant past, and most importantly added to the force of an intensely personal vision of how one should paint. I think that the contemporary painter, trying to figure out how to proceed in the impossibly complex art scene of the early twenty-first century, could learn a lot from this approach."
Tom Ferrara remembers Willem De Kooning in words and photographs.
Ferrara writes that "After meeting Bill de Kooning, one thing that first became apparent was that he had amazing skills of observation. Not only was he more visually active than everyone else but he also appeared to enjoy the act of seeing more than anyone. It seemed like he noticed everything and was able to find something extraordinary in the most ordinary of places."
Thomas B. Hess' records the tortuous evolution of Willem de Kooning's seminal painting Woman I, 1950-52.
Hess writes: "The painting’s energetic and lucid surfaces, its resoundingly affirmative presence, give little indication of a vacillating, Hamlet-like history. Woman appears inevitable, like a myth that needed but a quick name to become universally applicable. But like any myth, its emergence was long, difficult and (to use one of the artist’s favorite adjectives) mysterious... It would be a false simile to compare the two years’ work that resulted in Woman to a progress or a development. Rather there was a voyage; not a mission or an errand, but one of those Romantic ventures which so attracted poets, from Byron, Baudelaire, through Lewis Carroll’s Snark, to Mallarmé and Rimbaud... The stages of the painting which are reproduced on these pages illustrate arbitrarily, even haphazardly, some of the stops en route—like cities that were visited, friends that were met. They are neither better nor worse, more or less 'finished,' than the terminus. They are memories which the camera has changed to tangible souvenirs. Some might appear more satisfactory than the ending, but this is irrelevant. The voyage, on the other hand, is relevant: the exploration for a constantly elusive vision; the solution to a problem that was continually being set in new ways. And the ending is like the poets’ ending, too; the voyage simply stops."
Edited by artist Brett Baker, Painters' Table highlights writing from the painting blogosphere as it is published and serves as a platform for exploring blogs that focus primarily on the subject of painting.