Born on March 12, 1918, in Brooklyn, New York City, Elaine de Kooning (Fried) was interested in art from a young age. With the support of her mother, she was often taken to museums and painted what she saw. After enrolling at Hunter College, de Kooning left the college and started to study art at Leonardo da Vinci Art School, New York.
After spending her early years in college, she met her future husband, also known as famous artist Willem de Kooning and was married to him from 1943 until her death. Being married to such a famous artist as her husband affected her art life. Some say she was being overshadowed by his fame but she felt ‘she worked in his light ‘.
She once said, “A painting to me is primarily a verb, not a noun,” Never giving up painting from her early years to old age, de Kooning, also was known as femme fatale and feminist, a painter, a writer, a well-known critic, and a respected teacher.
Career and Philosophy
Elaine de Kooning was a member of ‘The Club’, a group of popular artists like Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, and Larry Rivers. They met at a dive bar in Greenwich Village to discuss and debate art and their philosophy from 1949 until 1962.
In those years, of course, the number of women in such clubs was quite low. She was able to participate in such events, partly because of her husband’s name, and she described and defended her husband’s works. Elaine de Kooning has placed herself between her gender and her career. As a member of the Abstract Expressionism Movement, she eventually became known for her paintings, particularly of men and her portraits.
During a male-dominated movement, she chose to use themes that were very masculine in her art in later years. However, during the abstract expressionist era, her sex distinguished her mostly from her male colleagues.
Elaine de Kooning’s art and career were marked by her demands for machismo and masculinity in the mid-century, and contradictions occur within her craft as she attempts to match the (man) person of the Abstract artist, while retaining a feminine identity.
Elaine frequently revisited male-inspired subjects; she depicted the male basketball and the baseball players in dynamic postures in her portraiture; in her cave painting-inspired work she represented the company of primitive male hunters; in her series of sports paintings, she portrayed men’s basketball and baseball players.
Elaine de Kooning was regarded as a defender of the movement by some the voice of Abstract Expressionism, she also worked as a publisher of Art News, and Elaine has gained attention and more appreciation for her criticism, which has been written instead of her art.
In 1952, in the Stable Gallery, New York, she had her first solo exhibition, exploring diverse subjects in a gestural style throughout the decade. In the Montclair Art Gallery, New Jersey, and the Guild Hall Museum, East Hampton, New York, De Kooning held many solo galleries during her life. Her work was on show in the Young American Painters Museum of Modern Art (1956-1958), an exhibition organized in America.
Besides Elaine De Kooning has taught at several colleges, including Yale and Parsons New School for Design. She traveled a lot to teach, paint, and earn money.
Style of Work and Legacy
After her death, Elaine de Kooning attracted more attention with her feminism and being one of the pioneers of the Abstract Expressionism movement as a woman. De Kooning was very prone to self-improvement and criticism, and had an ambitious and vivid personality.
It can be seen that the superiority of energy and gesture is the predominance at the heart of Elaine de Kooning’s art. Her work is dynamically inspired by a loose, gestural way of painting. In her gestural form, there is a hint of masculinity and a devotion to her early career as an Abstract Expressionist precedent.
Not only using gestural style, but she also was using the ideas of Action Painting, which she painted abstract lines, a great deal of her work is rooted in the daily reality of her life. Elaine de Kooning also mentioned, “Style is something I’ve always tried to avoid. I’m more interested in the character.”
De Kooning was influenced not only by the artists and movements but also everything surrounding her such as sculptures, cave paintings, and also bullfights. In Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, one of her friends, the poet Margaret Randal, introduced her to bullfights, resulting in one of the most famous collections of paintings, bulls.
She was very interested in representing the movement and energy of the bulls in a way that reflects the feelings and movement, but not like a photo frame and movie scene.
In 1962, She increased her prestige as a portrait artist by painting John F. Kennedy. Elaine de Kooning’s heritage has gained further recognition in recent years with the exhibition of her portraits at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington and Denver Art Museum exhibition Women of Abstract Expressionism.
Today, known as a feminist and Abstract Expressionist, Elaine de Kooning’s artworks are housed in several collections at the National Art Gallery in Washington, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, and the Kemper Museum in Kansas City.