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Drawings & Notes

5 May 2021
Willem de Kooning | Two Women, c. 1950 | Graphite and oil on paper, 25 × 20 cm

Willem de Kooning

Two Women, c. 1950
Graphite and oil on paper
25 × 20 cm

Willem de Kooning. Drawings
5 May – 26 June 2021
Matthew Marks Gallery, New York

Willem de Kooning

Untitled (Painting Study), c. 1975
Charcoal on paper
22 × 28 cm

Willem de Kooning

Untitled (Clamdigger), c. 1970
Charcoal on paper
28 × 22 cm

“Even abstract shapes must have a likeness”
[from the pressrelease] – The exhibition Drawings features thirty-two works spanning the artist’s long career. The tension between abstraction and figuration that defined de Kooning’s art is apparent in the exhibition’s earliest works. Included are several of his most celebrated drawings from the 1930s, including a 1937 study for his World’s Fair mural, his 1938 portrait of the art critic Harold Rosenberg, and the Ingresque Reclining Nude (Juliet Browner) (c. 1938), one of his first female nudes. The traditional skills he learned at the art academy in Rotterdam are evident in a sheet of precisely drawn portraits of Elaine de Kooning from the early 1940s.

By the following decade de Kooning had traded deliberateness for velocity. Included in the exhibition are three Woman drawings from c. 1950 made up of swarms of graphite marks in constant motion, smeared or removed almost as quickly as they were laid down. Widely celebrated for his skilled draftsmanship, de Kooning nevertheless strived to avoid what he considered the pitfalls of virtuosity. In the mid-1960s he used experiments like drawing with his eyes closed to break old habits and discover new means of expression. 

Several drawings in the exhibition build on the lessons of those exercises. Drawn with charcoal, which facilitated even faster mark-making, they describe figures with an immediacy that the artist likened to snapshots. The human form still provides the departure point for three turbulent drawings from the late 1970s, the latest in the exhibition. As de Kooning famously said, “Even abstract shapes must have a likeness.”

Willem de Kooning

Woman, c. 1950
Graphite and wax crayon on paperboard, double
33 × 25 cm

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