Willem de Kooning

Dutch-American abstract expressionist artist

Willem de Kooning

was born,
April 24, 1904,
in Rotterdam.

Often identified as an action painter he is one of the few Abstract Expressionists who continued to depict a recognisable figure. His real subject, as he said, was space and the figure-ground relation.

He was part of a group of artists that came to be known as the New York School. Other painters in this group included Jackson Pollock, Elaine de Kooning, Lee Krasner, Franz Kline, Arshile Gorky, Mark Rothko, Hans Hofmann, Nell Blaine, Adolph Gottlieb, Anne Ryan, Robert Motherwell, Philip Guston, Clyfford Still, and Richard Pousette-Dart.

So here’s a glimpse of his work
Woman I

“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 that I have to follow my desires.”

Rider (Untitled VII)

“The past does not influence me; I influence it.”

Untitled III

“In art, one idea is as good as another. If one takes the idea of trembling, for instance, all of a sudden most art starts to tremble. Michelangelo starts to tremble. El Greco starts to tremble. All the Impressionists start to tremble.”

Litho # 2 (Waves # 2)

“Not even for a million dollars would I paint a tree.”

A Tree in Naples

“My business is to paint what I see, not I paint the way I do because I can keep on putting more and more things in – like drama, pain, anger, love, a figure, a horse, my ideas of space. It doesn’t matter if it differs from mine, as long as it comes from the painting, which has its own integrity and intensity..”


“The drawings that interest me most are made with closed eyes. With eyes closed, I feel my hand slide down on the paper. I have an image in mind, but the results always surprise me.”


“The word ‘abstract’ comes from the light tower of the philosophers. One of their spotlights that they have particularly focused on ‘Art’. [Abstraction was] not so much what you could paint but rather what you could not paint. You could not paint a house or a tree or a mountain. It was then that subject matter came into existence as something you ought not have.”


“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 hope for is to put some order into ourselves.”

Revenge (in-text plate, folio 8) from 21 Etchings and Poems

“If I stretch my arms and wonder where my fingers are – that is all the space I need as a painter.”

Minnie Mouse

“I’m not interested in ‘abstracting’ or taking things out or reducing painting to design, form, line, and color. I paint this way because I can keep putting more things in it – drama, anger, pain, love, a figure, a horse, my ideas about space. Through your eyes it again becomes an emotion or idea.”

Untitled V

“Content is a glimpse of something, an encounter like a flash. It’s very tiny – very tiny. Content.”


“The point they (Lissitzky, Rodchenko, Tatlin, Gabo, the neo-Plasticists, and so on) all had in common was to be inside and outside at the same time. For me, to be inside and outside is to be in an unheated studio with broken windows in the winter, or taking a nap on somebody’s porch in the summer.”

Seated Woman

“Every so often, a painter has to destroy painting. Cezanne did it, Picasso did it with Cubism. Then Pollock did it. He busted our idea of a picture all to hell. Then there could be new paintings again.”

Preparatory drawing for In Memory of My Feelings

“The idea of space is given to the artist to change if he can. The subject matter in the abstract is space.”

Untitled (Peace Symbol and Animal Figures Also Known as I Love Lisa)

“What you do when you paint, you take a brush full of paint, get paint on the picture, and you have faith.”

Weekend at Mr. and Mrs. Krisher

“I see the canvas and I begin… It’s a necessary evil to get into the work, and it’s pretty marvelous to be able to get out of it.”

Nude Figure–Woman on the Beach

“I don’t paint to live, I live to paint.”

Untitled (Torsos)


Miles Davis bends the notes. He doesn’t play them, he bends them. I bend the paint.

Pink Angels

“You have to keep on the very edge of something, all the time, or the picture dies.”


“If you’re an artist, the problem is to make a picture work whether you are happy or not.”

Villa Borghese

“I might work on a painting for a month, but it has to look like I painted it in a minute.”

Seated Woman, 1940

“Even abstract shapes must have a likeness”


“Art never seems to make me peaceful or pure. I always seem to be wrapped in the melodrama of vulgarity. I do not think… of art as a situation of comfort.”

Landing Place

“Watercolors is the first and the last thing an artist does.”

Untitled (gemini 404)

De Kooning in his studio

Blue in Green

*Miles Davis

Soloist, Tenor Saxophone: John Coltrane
Alto Saxophone: Cannonball Adderley
Piano, Soloist: Bill Evans
Bass: Paul Chambers
Drums: Jimmy Cobb

and from the New York School of composers:

Triadic Memories

Morton Feldman

Piano: Philip Thomas

For more information on De Kooning:






Be Safe 🏡

24 replies »

  1. I love it when you include artists’ words about their work 🙂 This always helps me understand their process and philosophy. What an awesome presentation of one of your favorite painters. He and his wife…a couple of artists…:)

  2. One day I hope to achieve writing as expressively as Willem de Kooning illustrates and paints. What incredible talent, to be envied and admired. I can only hope to one day achieve such a level, with my use of words, words that for me be but symbols I’d long ago accepted as being the material, with which a poem composes the images and pictures that like a painting tells a story.

    Thank you marina for this inspiration…

  3. Thank you for this reflection. This is an artist that I am in the process of doing a mini-research project. He is not easy to understand, but I believe he speaks directly to the understanding of humanity’s story.

Happy to hear your thoughts

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