Monday, October 10, 2011

From Rotterdam to America

The book about Willem de Kooning, "de Kooning, An American Master" by Mark Stevent and Annalyn Swan is thick with approximately 700 pages , including forty chapters, notes, old photographs in black and white, documentation, index and 21 color reproductions of his works from 1921 to 1987 to illustrate the different periods of his production.The life of de Kooning is so filled during its 94 years, the authors had to divide it in periods. Starting with "Holland" narrating his youth followed by "The Immigrant" with the arrival and establishment of the artist in his new country. This leads to "Recognitions" and ultimately his dream becoming true "An American Master". He then moves to the "Springs" starting a new chapter of his life ending with "Twilight".

The book is enthralling with everyday stories about de Kooning and other artists which enlighten the bigger story, the birth of abstract expressionism in New York. I can visualize the artists, understand their interactions like it happened yesterday. I can walk Downtown in NYC and find the places where it happened, the bars, galleries, hanging around artists studios. The reporting is a direct account and the sources are well recorded at the end of the book. De Kooning, rootless, trying to establish himself in America, the evolving friendships with Gorky, Franz Kline, Soutine and in the process, the history of American art told through a captivating story.

It takes an Olympian flavor, with the artist climbing to fame, his struggles, his apogee and then, the slow downfall, unavoidable from alcoholism and dementia. It brings the full dimension of the artist whose legacy takes a historical significance.
De Koooning who travelled to America as a stowaway on a British freighter would love the title "An American Master". The book won a Pulitzer Prize and The National Book Critics Award.

Till January, the MoMA presents de Kooning: a Retrospective .

photograph Wikipedia

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