Ours being a mixed marriage of sorts — with Kevin a visual artist and me primarily a writer — we can appreciate each others’ fields but less often experience that visceral understanding of what it takes to create a short story or a painting.
Last weekend, we went to the de Kooning show at the Museum of Modern Art. It was Kevin’s second time and my first to the show. It’s big, a complete retrospective of the artist’s career, and we spent nearly three hours there and still had to rush through the end.
I had seen many de Koonings over the years, but always one or two at a time, never a large survey of his work. This show was a prime example of why seeing an artist’s work over his or her lifetime is so important. He had a long career, starting when he was a teenager and working into his eighties. He started as a graphic designer, and his early paintings in particular are scattered with graphic shapes.
As he worked through the years, from his early, more representational paintings, to the abstract and a blend of the two, de Kooning didn’t abandon all the elements of each phase but instead adapted them, carrying techniques or colors or visual elements to another level the way a writer carries themes from one piece of work to the next.
What inspired me most was the way de Kooning worked on a single painting. Particularly in his early work, a close look reveals layers of colors, almost as if he painted several different paintings over each other, allowing small elements from the previous layer to show through to the next, in a sense creating “drafts” of the painting.
The next day, we took the kids to Washington DC, where along with a few thousand others we circled the White House and protested the Tar Sands Pipeline. I don’t know what it says about our times (or us) that our kids first visit to the White House involved yelling at the President.