Monday, April 09, 2012

Weekly Work: Bacchus #81

The 1940s and 1950s were heavily influenced by an art movement known as Abstract Expressionism. Willem de Kooning was known as one of the great artists of the time during this period. His wife Elaine was also heavily influenced by the Abstract Expressionism movement, but was often relegated to Willem's shadow. This week's Weekly Work shifts the spotlight on Elaine, an extraordinary artist with strong ties to the University of Georgia.

One branch of Abstract Expressionism is “action painting,” which often features large, quickly made strokes and compositions that strive to convey an idea of motion and malleability. Elaine was never a true abstract painter, but the principles of Abstract Expressionism can be seen in her 1983 work “Bacchus #81.”

Bacchus #81

Elaine’s works often feature subtle figures, despite her association with Abstract Expressionism. Her thick, heavy brushstrokes outlining the forms of human figures blend the figurative and abstract art in a highly stylized way. Although it is clear that some kind of human figure is being portrayed, it is difficult to tell how many figures there are.

Elaine’s Bacchus series was inspired by a sculpture she saw on a visit to the Jardin du Luxembourg, in Paris, France. Jules Dalou created "The Triumph of Silenus" in 1885.

Bacchus inventant la com├ędie

Elaine began painting the series in her studio here at UGA from 1976 to 1978 during her tenure as the first Lamar Dodd Visiting Professor. In 1977, de Kooning spent the summer in Cortona, Italy, as part of the UGA Summer Study Abroad Program.

Born in Brooklyn in 1918 as Elaine Fried, she got her love of art from her mother, Mary, who frequently took her children to art museums and Broadway plays. After graduating high school, de Kooning studied briefly at Hunter College, the Leonardo da Vinci Art School and the American Artists School. In the fall of 1938, Elaine met Dutch immigrant Willem de Kooning. The pair moved in together a year later and married in 1943.

Willem and Elaine de Kooning
De Kooning’s artistic work was often overshadowed by that of her more famous husband’s, but received her first solo exhibition at the Stable Gallery in 1954, and Art News later went on to call it one of the “Ten Best of 1956.”

Beginning in 1957, she received a variety of teaching positions at institutions including the University of New Mexico, Yale University, Pratt Institute and Carnegie Mellon University. Her crowning achievement was a commission from the White House to paint a portrait of President John F. Kennedy. The portrait easily stands out in the long lineof presidential portraits. Following Kennedy’s assassination, de Kooning took a year’s hiatus from painting and focused on sculpting.

Portrait of John F. Kennedy
Elaine traveled extensively throughout the 1980s, visiting various parts of the United States, Europe, Egypt, Kenya, China and Japan. These travels inspired her series Cave Walls and Cave Paintings, which represented a major divergence from her early work, featuring lighter, minimalist brushstrokes.

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