Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Elephant No. 95: Willem de Kooning Elephant

A couple of days ago, someone on the Elephant a Day Twitter feed was kind enough to admire my Keith Haring elephants, so I decided it was time to mimic another artist.

Woman and Bicycle (1952–1953)
Willem de Kooning (1904–1997)
Oil on canvas
Collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City
Source: http://whitney.org/Collection/WillemDeKooning/5535

Although it would never be my natural style of painting, one of my favourite paintings has always been Willem de Kooning's Woman and Bicycle. I don't know if it's the manic grin, the crazy brushstrokes or the vibrant colours, but it's always made me smile. Hence today's elephant.

Willem de Kooning was born in a working-class neighbourhood of Rotterdam in 1904. He studied for eight years at the Rotterdam Academy of Fine Arts and Techniques, and in the 1920s worked as an assistant art director at a Rotterdam department store.

In 1926, he stowed away on a British freighter bound for the United States, and by 1939 had established enough of an artistic reputation to be selected as one of the 38 artists to design and paint public murals for the New York World's Fair that year.

Although he started as a figural artist, by the late 1930s, abstraction had begun to creep into his work, along with heightened colours. By the 1940s, he had earned recognition as one of the leaders of the Abstract Expressionist movement. Interestingly, in the mid-1940s, he was too poor to buy artists' pigments, and instead used black and white household paint to create a series of large abstract works.

Black Untitled (1948)
Willem de Kooning (1904–1997)
Oil and enamel on paper
Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
Source: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/1984.613.7

By the end of the decade, he had reintroduced colour, and was painting with the almost agitated brushstrokes and manic-looking compositions with which he has since become most closely associated.

In later years, he turned to sculpture, as well as to a style of painting that was far more pared down and spare. He died on Long Island, New York in 1997, at the age of 92.

Abstraction (1949–1950)
Willem de Kooning (1904–1997)
Oil on canvas
Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Madrid, Spain
Source: http://www.wikiart.org/en/willem-de-kooning/abstraction-1950

For my de Kooning elephant, I more or less imagined it in my head before committing it to a small canvas board. I wasn't sure if it was the kind of thing I could sketch in advance, so I decided to just go for it.

I'm not a student of painterly techniques, but to me it looked like de Kooning laid in blocks of colour, overlaid them with more colour, then used a sort of drybrush technique to add black outlines. At least, that's the technique I decided to use.

Because I didn't want to work big, I used a canvas board measuring 4 by 6 inches (10 x 15.25 cm). I began by blocking in some colours with acrylic paint.

Next, I blocked in some more paint, adding white to add some definition.

The black came last. I found it really hard to get the eye and mouth right, but eventually I decided to leave it alone.

It's not as Kooning-esque as I would ideally have hoped, but I actually really like the final result. It makes me smile—just like de Kooning's Woman and Bicycle.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Because of the de Kooning painting, for today's elephant lore, I jokingly googled "elephant on bicycle." I expected the results to be be cute illustrations of elephants on bicycles. After all, what bicycle could possible hold an elephant?

Lo and behold, this popped up:

Technically, of course, these are massive tricycles at what appears to be an elephant showcase in Thailand. And I don't like to think how they taught the elephants to do such an unnatural thing. But now we know: elephants can ride cycles in real life.

Elephant with bicycle, Mole National Park, Ghana, 2007.
Source: http://blogs.bootsnall.com/dankdc/page/2

To Support Elephant Welfare

No comments:

Post a Comment