The Artist Birthday Series

Willem de Kooning

Willem_De_Kooning

His peak was reached by 1980, and by then he had created a magisterial body of work, sensuous, always questing and probing, always saying something however obliquely about the human condition, the business of being alive, most noted by an exhibition at the Tate Gallery, curated by Nicholas Serota and David Sylvester, one of de Kooning’s earliest and best champions in Europe.

dekooning untitled v 1980
“Untitled V,” by Willem de Kooning, 1980
Paul McCartney and Willem de Kooning, 1983 - Photo by Linda McCartney. The McCartneys were friends of de Kooning, and visited the artist often. Paul, a talented painter in his own right, was first inspired by de Kooning to take up the brush.
Paul McCartney and Willem de Kooning, 1983 – Photo by Linda McCartney. The McCartneys were friends of de Kooning, and visited the artist often. Paul, a talented painter in his own right, was first inspired by de Kooning to take up the brush.

But by the mid 1980’s de Kooning exhibited undeniable signs of dementia, exacerbated by alcoholism, and though they did not live together anymore, his wife Elaine took over his public image and kept his illness secret from not only the press but also his friends. He became a recluse, still working but with a great deal of the work being heavily guided (or possibly completed) by his patient assistants, Robert Chapman, Antoinette Gay, and Jennifer McLaughlin. When his wife died of cancer in 1989, he was never told, for fear of upsetting his already fragile state. He stopped painting in 1990 as his condition no longer permitted him to work.

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