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de Kooning, the Mash-Up Master

Rachel Bowden

ENG 328

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Pink Angels, 1945 (oil, charcoal/canvas; 52×40)

Willem de Kooning’s Pink Angels screams “mash-up” art, successfully creating an organic-looking whole from many disjointed pieces. De Kooning’s disjointed style allowed him to create pieces that had motion, action, symmetry, abstract images, and grace all at the same time—in other words, controlled “Modernist” chaos.

This piece is interesting because although there is a main image that really draws us in (almost everything in pink, particularly the biggest pink piece in the bottom right section of the canvas), we’re not quite sure what it is. Some of the shapes look as though they could be human body parts, but the image as a whole is very fragmented which makes it hard for us as viewers to dedicate our thoughts to just one idea of what we’re looking at. The motion of the piece also makes it challenging. Although it looks like there could be human shapes in it (and because the title alludes to it being something that has a quasi-human shape), the brush strokes from the surrounding light brown color make it hard to see where some limbs start and where others end.

Although very abstract due to the nature of the shapes, we also see some harsh lines used that present us with symmetry, and some of the shapes like the pink rectangle on the bottom right hand corner have very clear tones of cubist shapes. It looks as if there’s a crab in the bottom right hand corner, and we can also make out what looks to be a human eye, but beyond that, it’s quite tough. There aren’t too many colors used, but the pink really stands out and the brown in the background, along with some darker pinks, complement the rest of the image well and don’t make it too busy.

De Kooning is difficult to capture because he draws from so many artistic inspirations and doesn’t try to fit himself into one box. He spills from abstract expressionism to figuration, and seems not to be too concerned with conventions. Specifically in this painting, de Kooning seems to compress space and makes his body parts almost camouflaged. We as viewers have to piece together the pieces of his puzzle, and his subtle hints (eyes, distinct animate shapes like crab claws, etc.) only suggest things to us. He has very Picasso-esque elements in his pieces, and this mixed with all the other “types” of artistic technique let us know that de Kooning was a true Modernist—he didn’t want to label himself. He instead wanted to squeeze everything he could onto one canvas—the old, the present, and the exciting new.

A key example of a hungry Modernist artist, de Kooning was the epitome of “making it new”. He brought savagery, grace, confusion, symmetry, color, and abstract elements all into one, and was not content with having just one label. Pink Angels, like his other paintings, is a Modernist example of “controlled chaos” and presents us with another definition of Modernism.

COTTER, HOLLAND. “Unfurling a Life of Creative Exuberance.” The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Oct. 2013. <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/16/arts/design/de-kooning-a-retrospective-at-moma-review.html?pagewanted=all&gt;.

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