Willem de Kooning (American, 1904-1997), the artist
Lithograph, Sheet: 121.6 x 82.2 cm (47 7/8 x 32 3/8 in.); Image: 108.7 x 77.8 cm (42 13/16 x 30 5/8 in.). Leonard C. Hanna, Jr. Fund 1997.55
Abstract Expressionism developed between 1945 and 1948 by American artists like Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Robert Motherwell. Inspired by surrealism, abstract expressionists also wanted to cull the unconscious mind for imagery. Because art was made intuitively by recording the spontaneous gesture of the arm as it moves across a canvas or sheet of paper, a large format was used and the focus was on painting. There was little interest in printmaking in America at the time; very few abstract expressionists produced prints from 1945 to 1965. Willem de Kooning's immense, powerful 1960 lithograph, Litho #2, is therefore extremely unusual and important. The artist had produced only a few etchings previously and this and Litho #1 were his first attempts at lithography. Made at the print shop of the University of California at Berkeley, experienced lithographers Nathan Oliveira and George Miyasaki helped with the printing. In less than an hour, de Kooning produced images on two large lithographic stones. Karl Kasten, who ran the print shop, remembered, "All of us were overwhelmed by both the quality and the size of what Bill did on those stones. . . . I think they are the greatest prints of the 20th century." Litho #1 and Litho #2 were highly experimental and only a few impressions of each were printed on architectural paper that just happened to be in the studio. De Kooning's brush loaded with black ink moving rapidly across the surface of the stone, leaving drips and streaks and huge curving forms, creates a sense of immediacy and the powerful, exciting effect of continuous motion.
Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art (6/27/01 - 9/23/01); The Cleveland Museum of Art (10/28/01-1/06/01); Amon Carter Museum (3/2/02 - 5/12/02); "The Stamp of Impulse: Abstract Expressionist Prints" Honolulu Museum of Art, HI (9/7/2017 – 1/21/2018): "Abstract Expressionism: Looking East from the Far West"
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