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Art HERstory: Elaine de Kooning


Elaine de Kooning

Charles Hamilton said it best: “There Ain’t Nothing Like a Brooklyn Girl!” Seems to me Elaine de Kooning knew her borough was destined for greatness way before Charles was a twinkle in his father’s eye. Brooklyn born and bred, Elaine Marie Fried blessed the BK on March 12, 1918. Her mother was excited to have a little one and wasted no time instilling artistic appreciation in the young Elaine.

(1957). The title fits. The colors are an exact replica of the colors you would encounter strolling through a part on a Sunday afternoon in Autumn.

Sunday Afternoon (1957). The title fits. The colors are an exact replica of the colors you would encounter strolling through a part on a Sunday afternoon in Autumn.

Elaine’s first artistic endeavors began as a child when she would frequent museums with her mother. Looking at art soon turned into creating art because Elaine’s mother taught her to draw everything she saw

Black and white photos are the best! This reminds me of something you would see under a microscope in a Biology lab.

Untitled (1949-50). Black and white photos are the best! This reminds me of something you would see under a microscope in a Biology lab.

After high school graduation and a brief period studying at Hunter College, Elaine followed her calling by studying at the Leonardo da Vinci Art School in New York in 1936. She finished her studies at American Artists School as a transfer student.

(1956). The way Elaine makes the focus point of the picture more defined and solid than the irrelevant background is genius!

Harold Rosenberg (1956). The way Elaine makes the focus point of the picture more defined and solid than the irrelevant background is genius!

In 1938 fate kicked in and Elaine met a Dutch immigrant artist who began to tutor her. Five years later Willem de Kooning became Elaine’s husband. As a result of the merging, Elaine’s fame took a slight backseat because Willem was already an established painter. To balance his fame, Elaine became a noted critic and artist for ARTnews. A 1940s Jay and Bey maybe? I mean, they did upgrade each other.

This painting is of the Roman God Bacchus. The monochromatic color scheme siezed my attention immediately.

This painting is of the Roman God Bacchus. The monochromatic color scheme siezed my attention immediately.

Elaine de Kooning is known for her abstract expressionist style of painting. Her sketches are also popular in the art world. She painted everything from still life paintings to portraits and was damn good at it. Her most famous piece is a portrait of John F. Kennedy for the Truman Library. Outside of creating, Elaine taught at Yale and Carnegie Mellon University.

(1962). The beginnigs of the sketch of John F. Kennedy. The lady is talented!

Portrait of John F. Kennedy (1962). The beginnigs of the sketch of John F. Kennedy. The lady is talented!

Despite the fame of the couple, they lived in poverty during the 1940s. Under the pressures of life, the duo found comfort in alcohol and became alcoholics and eventually drifted apart. Although they lived separately from the 1950s to the 1970s, they never divorced. In 1976, Elaine found sobriety and was reunited with Willem. She then helped him recover as well.

(1981). I love the colors used in this piece. It made me think of the Kurtis Blow hit!

Basketball (1981). I love the colors used in this piece. It made me think of the Kurtis Blow hit!

The couple lived happily for the next 20 years until Elaine lost her battle with lung cancer in 1989 at the age of 70. To make matters worse, Willem suffered from Alzheimer’s and was unaware of his wife’s passing.

Elaine in her studio

Elaine in her studio

(1958). A messy, colorful background dominated by a basic, black bull. Nice!

Bull (1958). A messy, colorful background dominated by a basic, black bull. Nice!

(1954). The cartoon-ish style is what I like most about this piece.

Fairfield Porter (1954). The cartoon-ish style is what I like most about this piece.


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