Posted in Art and Artists, Research & Reflection

In the Studio: Willem de Kooning

Continuing on the “In the Studio” series, the focus has moved to de Kooning.


The initial video is about de Kooning’s style and approach. Here the artist is an “Action Painter” with major gestural marks on a large format and working with the “physicality of the medium”. This is explained in the videos as using the liquid and viscous properties of different paints and paint blends to get effects.

He would use large amount of paint and create interesting textures and variation of paints within the piece. He would work from a distance with very long paint brushes. Some of his paintings show evidence of “warm up” drawings underneath in charcoal. This wasn’t to provide a template for the work, more to practice the necessary movements for the image. Drips and other chaotic elements were accepted as part of the process, and removing paint was as important as adding it. The process was to add. Think. Remove paint that didn’t help, or had formed issues. Then add more paint on top. Possibly scrub with solvent, or even sand back the paint and then start moving forwards again. The editing was relentless and could take an extended time frame in producing a work.

Woman 1


This is the first work examined in more detail. For this painting the process was especially slow. Adding, removing and leaving evidence of this process in the end result. e.g. Flakes of semi-dried paint on the final canvas. The relationship of parts to the whole was important to the artist. Composition was carefully considered, along with “Playing with figure-ground relationship.” This seems to be a recurring theme in contemporary painting. (See


See: and

This work is described as being inspired by cubism. It starts out as an interior with bed at the top, although I would not have stated that without their explanation. This comes from process photos that they have available. The end result is more the jigsaw puzzle it is described as later. It seems that de Kooning worked to avoid “hotspots” where the eye rested too long. Possibly an argument against representational painting with a clear subject, as that would clearly draw the eye.

Pirate (Untitled II)


The last work looked at in more detail, and much later than the others. Painted after/during a “drying out” period much later in his life. It is partially named after the shape in the middle (Pirate ship sails) The work is highly derived from negative space consideration.

So, what have I learnt?

Strangely quite a lot.

In the Abstract Expressionism exhibition at the Royal Academy the de Kooning work was one of the artists that caught my eye. The “Pink Angels” was oddly fascinating and this has given me some better understanding of where the work was heading. I’m not about to buy a copy and put it on my wall, but there elements are starting to fit into place as to why this might be important – if not to me then to others. I think the journey is of interest, even if I’m not jumping on the bandwagon just yet. It falls into the “Art as materials study” concept to an extent, and possibly adds “Art as Exploration” with overtones of Kandinsky.

Progress of sorts…


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