In May of 1959, Willem de Kooning's show of new paintings opened at the Sidney Janis Gallery in New York. Included were a breathtaking assortment of abstract landscapes painted between 1956-1959. Up until this seminal break, de Kooning's work was largely figurative, the famed Woman series directly preceding this ground-breaking evolution. De Kooning's growing passion for landscape is keenly felt in many of the later Women works from the 50s in which the figure, almost wholly swallowed by swirling brushstrokes, becomes almost secondary to the landscape.
The works from 1958-1959 are characterized by the simplification of his abstractions from the two preceding years. De Kooning pared down his color palette and used wide, sweeping brushstrokes in an economy of touch producing lushly gestural compositions. The present work, from 1958, exhibits four broad areas of color, bisected by a highway - a jagged black line, highly reminiscent of Franz Kline's architectonic black and white compositions. De Kooning's active brushwork creates a searing dynamism in which the viewer can almost feel the excitement of speeding down a highway, through the flat pastoral lands of 1950s Long Island, towards the sand dunes and vivid blues of the Atlantic Ocean.
In the exhibition catalogue of the 1959 Janis show, Harriet Janis and Rudi Blesh described de Kooning's new body of work: "No pure abstract geometry ever elated people as did de Kooning's latest paintings at their preview in May, 1959. More abstract than any previous de Kooning pantings, they seem even more intensely real. The old violence now communicates a most remarkable triumph and exhilaration. Calligraphy and forms merge in brush strokes so huge and spattering that they seem created with an energy and speed beyond the human." (Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan, de Kooning: An American Master, New York, 2004, p. 412)
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