Willem de Kooning: I Refrain From Finishing

Willem de Kooning: epic paintings, with great colors, shapes, forms, energy, and vivacity!


Lessons from Willem de Kooning

You need life experiences before making art!

The texture of experience is prior to everything else.

Humans create their own own art according to their own image

There is a train track in the history of art that goes way back to Mesopotamia. It skips the whole Orient, The Mayas, And American Indians. Duchamp is on it. Cézanne is on it. Picasso and the Cubistsare on it; Giacometti, Piet Mondrian, and so many… I have some feeling about all these people – millions of them – on this enormous track, a way into history. They had a peculiar way of measuring. They seemed to measure with a length similar to their own height.. ..The idea that the thing that the artist is making can come to know for itself, how high it is, how wide and how deep it is, is a historical one, – a traditional one I think. It comes from man’s own image.

Don’t define yourself or trap yourself in a category

It is disastrous to name ourselves.

Art is for us to give order to ourselves!

Nature then, is just nature. I admit I am very impressed with it. The attitude that nature is chaotic and that the artist puts order into it is a very absurd point of view, I think. All that we can do for is to put some order in ourselves. When a man ploughs his field at the right time, it means just that.

Rid yourself of your own inner barricades

Kandinsky understood ‘form’ as a form, like an object in the real world; and a object, he said, was a narrative – and so, of course, he disapproved of it. He wanted ‘his music without words’. He wanted to be ‘simple as a child’. He intended, with his ‘inner-self’ to rid himself of ‘philosophical barricades’ (he sat down and wrote something about all this).

No space or limits; everything should keep on going!

You got no limits. Keep on going!

The sentiment of the Futurists was simpler. No space. Everything ought to keep going! That’s probably the reason they went themselves. Either a man was a machine or else a sacrifice to make machines with..

Lead your own personal movement!

Personally, I do not need a movement. What was given to me, I take for granted. Of all movements, I like Cubism most. It had that wonderful unsure atmosphere of reflection – a poetic frame where something could be possible, where an artist could practise [sic] his intuition. It didn’t want to get rid of what went before. Instead it added something to it.

Be a one person movement!

there is that one-man movement, Marcel Duchamp – for me a truly modern movement because it implies that each artist can do what he thinks he ought to – a movement for each person and open for everybody.

Follow your own desires and ignore the critics

Certain artists and critics attacked me for painting the ‘Women’ [series of paintings, De kooning started in 1950], but I felt that this was their problem, not mine. I don’t really feel like a non-objective painter at all.. .It’s really absurd to make an image, like a human image. With paint, today, when you think about it, since we have this problem of doing it or not doing it. But then all of a sudden it was even more absurd not to do it. So I fear I have to follow my desires.

Find beauty in ordinary objects or scenes!

But I find, because of modern painting, that things which couldn’t be seen in terms of painting, things you couldn’t paint.. ..it is not that you paint them, bit is the connection. I imagine that Cézanne, when he painted a ginger pot with apples, must have been very grotesque in his day, because a still life was something set up of beautiful things. It may be very difficult, for instance, to put a Rheingold bottled beer on the table and a couple of glasses and a package of Lucky Strike [cigarets]. I mean, you know, there are certain things you cannot paintat a particular time, and it takes a certain attitude how to see those things, in terms of art.

Have an attitude to your artwork!

Well, now I can make some highways, maybe. Well, now I can set out to do it and maybe it will be a painting of something else. Because if you know the measure of something, for yourself.. .There’s is no absolute measure that you can identify yourself. You can find the size of something . You say, now ,that’s just this length, and immediately with that length you can paint, well, a cat maybe. If you understand one thing, you can use it for something else. Well, that is the way I work.. .I get hold of a certain thing of area or measure or size and then I can use it. I mean, I have an attitude. I have to have an attitude.

Enjoy your own artwork!

There is a time when you just take a walk.. ..you walk in your own landscape.. .It has an innocence that is kind of a grand feeling.. .Somehow I have the feeling that old man Monet might have felt like that, just simple in front of things, or old man Cézanne too.. .I really understand them now.

His favorite artist

I think I would choose Soutine.. .I’ve always been crazy about Soutine – all of his paintings. Maybe it’s the lushness of the paint. He builds up a surface that looks like a material, like a substance. There’s a kind of transfiguration, a certain fleshiness in his work.. .I remember when I first saw the Soutine’s in the Barnes Collection.. ..the Matisse’s had a light of their own, but the Soutine’s had a glow that came from within the paintings – it was another kind of light.

Look in your own direction and find inkfuence from others

Yet still, have the self confidence to go in the direction your gut tells you!

I had my own eyes, but I wasn’t always looking in the right direction. I was certainly in need of a helping hand at times. Now I feel like Manet who said, “Yes, I am influenced by everybody. But every time I put my hands in my pockets I find someone else’s fingers there.”


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