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De Kooning, Gorky, Pollock, Nationalism And Creativity

De Kooning, Gorky, Pollock, Nationalism And Creativity image
Parent Issue
Month
May
Year
1997
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Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
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Agenda Publications
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"In the past [de Kooning] has turn ed down a number of bidsfor retrospectivas. 'They treat the artist like a sausage,' he once said, 'tie him up a t both ends, and stamp on the center Museum of Modern Art, as if you're dead and they own you.'" - Thomas B. Hess taken f rom his catalogue introduction for the Willem de Kooning exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in 1968 (my emphasis). Willem de Kooning, one of the cons of modern art, passed away on March19, 1997, in Easy Hampton, NY at the age of 92. The long struggle was over for this immigrant (illegal) bom in Rotterdam, Holland in 1904. It is very hard to speak of Willem de Kooning without mentioning Arshile Gorky (bom Vosdanig Adoian in Armenia in 1904 as well). Gorky, although largely self-taught in art, was for a long time (Gorky died in 1 948) de Kooning's mentor, and he always deferred to Gorky, "l'm glad that it is about impossible to get away from his influence. As long as I keep it with myself , I 'II be doing all right." This is the kind of kindness and humility only the very greatest can show. De Kooning was one of the very best in the pantheon of modem art. The third artist l'd like to associate with Gorky and de Kooning is Pollock. He was bom Jackson Pollock in Cody, Wyoming in 1912. He died in a car accident near his home in East Hampton in 1 956. Most people have heard of Jackson Pollock because of the big "splash" (no pun intended) he made with his "drip" paintings in the early '50s. Not as much has been said or written about the preceding period (late '30s, early '40s) during which he produced some of my favorite paintings such as: The She-Wolf (1943), Pasiphae (1943) and Totem (1944). These five pieces show the influence of such artists as Picasso, Masson, or Miró. As Gorky and de Kooning had done - especially Gorky - these artists were smart enough to learn from the very best modem artists of the time. It is almost impossible (is it wishable?) to avoid influences. The great artists know where to go when looking for mentors. De Kooning's "Woman" series s, in my opinión, the best attempt to "compete" with Picasso. I regard the work of that period as de Kooning's greatest accomplishment. Jackson Pollock was a man of relatively few words and this is what he said on that topic: American painters have generally missed the point of modem paintng from beginning to end ... the ideas ofan isolated American painting, so popular in this country, during the thirties, seems absurd to me, just as the idea of creating a purely American mathematics or physics would seem absurd . . . And in another sense, the problem doesn'texistatall;or,ifitdid, would solve itself: An American is an American and his painting would naturally be qualified by that fact, whether he wills it or not. But the basic problems of contemporary painting are independent ofany one country. -Art & Architecture, 294 This statement very well llustrates a point: the "folly" of nationalism when it comes to creativity. And yet, it is appalling to see how art and nationality are intertwined. One speaks of the "Frenen School" or the "School of Paris," or"American Art" or "The School of New York." This is sheer stupidity and sheer imperialism. To Ilústrate this point, I will list a few names on both sides of the Atlantic. Some of the most famous artists living in France were Pablo Picasso (born 1881 in Malaga, Spain), Joan Miró, (born in 1893 in Barcelona, Spain) Mare Chagall (bom in 1887 in Vitebsk, Russia), Amadeo Modigliani (bom 1 884 in Leghom, Italy), Chaim Soutine (born in 1893 in Smilovitch, Lithuania), Wassili Kandinsky (bom in 1866 in Moscow, Russia), and Alberto Giacometti (bom in 1 901 in Stampa, Switzerland). These are some of the few artists who composed the "School of Paris." On this side of the Atlantic, most artists moved to the United States because of World War II, although Gorky and de Kooning made it to America in the '20s. Some of these artists are: John Graham (born I van Dombrovski in 1888 in Kiev, Ukraine), Mark Rothko (born in 1903 in Dvinsk, Russia), Sebastian Matta Echaurren (bom 1 91 2 n Santiago, Chile), Wrfredo Lam (born 1902 in Sagua la Grande, Cuba) and Max Ernst (born in 1891 in Bruhl, Germany). Other artists emigrating from Europe were: Nicolás Vasilieff, David Burliuk, Raphael Soyer, etc. This is just a small sampling of the variety of nationalities existing in Paris or in New York. Thus labels like "School of Paris" or "American Painting" are misleading and reflectan "imperialist" spirit which tries to "grab" everything of quality without giving credit to these "small nations." Art is universal and from a long chain of contributions large or small. All should be acknowledged appropriately. This is what Willem de Kooning had to say on the topic of nationalism in 1 963: fee much more in common with artists in LondonorParis.lt is a certain burden this Americanness. If you come from a small nation, you don't have that ... I feel sometimes an American artist must feel like a baseball player or something - a member of a team writing American history . . . -BBC interview What seems to me much more exciting is the creative process. And again I will let de Kooning and Pollock talk beautif ully about what they know best: ART. This is what Jackson Pollock said in 1956: don 't care for 'abstract expressionism ' ... and it's certainly not 'non-objective' and 'non-representational' either. lam veryrepresentational some of the time, and a little all of the time. But when you' re working out ofyour unconscious, figures are bound to emerge ... I guess l've been Jungian for a long time ... Painting is a state ofbeing . . . Painting is self-discovery ... Every good painter paints what he is. I can only agree with such a clear statement as I believe that most of the feud between "figurative" or "non-f igurative" art misses the point entirely, although t is an easy way to classify art and artists; oversimplification always leads to false conclusions. Art at the highest level is too complex to be "explained" by a few simplistic formulas. Willem de Kooning did also make a few nteresting statements about the creative process: "I used to be so nervous I got palpitations. Now I don't have that trouble. I see the canvas and I begin ... I have to change to remain the same" (interestingly cryptic) but; he added, "you have to keep on the edge of something, all the time, orthe picture dies." This last statement in particular tells me that risk-taking is essential in art. There has to be a tensión keeping the creative process from falling apart. The most nteresting art happens on the borders on the edge, in that zone where conscious and unconscious merge. Finally I will quote from Pollock's "Possibilities" in the late '40s: When I am in my painting, l'm not aware of what l'm doing. It is only after a sort of 'get-acquainted' period thatl see what I have been about. I have no fears about making changes, destroying the image and so forth because the painting has alifeofits own. I try to let it come through. It is only when I lose contact with the Painting that the result is a mess. Otherwise there is pure harmony, an easy give and take, the painting comes out we. This is a classic statement about the creative process in modern art. I find it very liberating and very nspiring.

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