After Jackson Pollock, de Kooning was the most prominent and celebrated of the Abstract Expressionist painters. His pictures typify
the vigorous gestural style of the movement. He developed a radically abstract style of painting that fused Cubism,
Surrealism and Expressionism.
De Kooning strongly opposed the restrictions imposed by naming movements and, while generally considered to be an Abstract
Expressionist, he never fully abandoned the depiction of the human figure. His paintings of women melt together figure and ground through a process of dismembering, re-assembling and distorting.
Although known for continually reworking his canvases, de Kooning often left them with a sense of dynamic incompletion, as
if the forms were still in the process of moving and settling and coming into definition. In this sense his paintings exemplify ‘action painting’ – they are
like records of a violent encounter, rather than finished works in the old Beaux Arts tradition of fine painting.
The explosive nature of de Kooning`s work tells us that it is an art of struggle, that its source is both painful and
personal, obviously based on feeling over intellect and very probably arousing from some “primal event” (as Freud might term it) in his early life so traumatizing that the artist buried it into his unconscious but eventually let it come to the surface when painting.
According to Freudian interpretations everyone’s image of women is formed by one’s first contacts, generally with the mother. De Kooning’s parents were divorced when he was five.
Originally with the father, his mother fought for and won the right to his custody. Apparently de Kooning’s mother was head-strong, devouring and manipulative. In such an environment, the artist could easily develop an unease growing into fear perhaps, repulsion, even hatred of his mother not unmixed with a desire to love and be loved by her — again, she is, after all, his mother — just as later on he would transfer this anguish to women generally, combined with a natural sexual and emotional attraction to, and need for, them.
It seems that de Kooning may be experiencing a not uncommon emotional situation regarding women, wherein the male is torn between two attitudes. In one, he may place a woman on an impossibly high pedestal of perfection, creating an idealized being of such purity, that he is unable to significantly relate to her sexually or emotionally. On the other hand, he may regard her as something appropriate to be used for his lust but not worthy of his love or respect.
Evidence of this conflict in de Kooning’s paintings can be identified in the violence of the artist’s attack upon the women who are his subjects and the paint surface itself. De Kooning’s women have taken a terrible fall from purity into filth and degradation, becoming very torn and scarred in the process. They are, in the paintings, voluptuous
but depraved, alluring but dangerous, disillusioning and disappointing in their fall from the pedestal…and therefore must be symbolically destroyed.