A sublime testament to Willem de Kooning’s inimitable painterly bravura, Amityville emerges from the earliest part of the critical decade of the 1970s, when the artist’s outpouring of creativity engendered an illustrious series of large-scale, color-drenched canvases that rank among the finest achievements of his celebrated career. Sublimely enveloping the viewer in a riot of briliant hue and undulating collisions of line and form, the present work announces the unequivocal painterly supremacy of Willem de Kooning at the absolute apex of his aesthetic prowess. Held in the same esteemed private collection for over three decades, the present work bears remarkable provenance and impressive exhibition history, having been included in a number of significant museum shows at renowned institutions including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Tate Gallery, London and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., among others. For its dazzling fusion of a melodic lyricism with the heroic and muscular gesture of de Kooning’s expressionism, the incandescent Amityville is a sensory delight and a triumph for the artist from this critical period of his career, one that beautifully links his earlier, more figurative paintings of female form, with the gestural abstraction of the mid 1970s.
Rendered with the full force of de Kooning’s inimitable abstract vernacular, Amityville represents a pivotal moment of artistic and creative transformation within the artist’s storied career. Executed in 1971, seven years after the artist had moved to East Hampton, and shortly following the revelation of his celebrated Women paintings of the 1950s and 60s, the layers of lush pigment which eddy and pool across the present work resolve to present the artist’s iconic figural forms, transformed and intensified within the effervescent landscape of the artist’s coastal environs. Describing the profound inspiration and visceral pleasure he found in the luminous landscape of his East Hampton surroundings, de Kooning reflects: “I wanted to get in touch with nature. Not painting scenes from nature, but to get a feeling of that light that was very appealing to me, here particularly… I got into painting in the atmosphere I wanted to be in.” (the artist quoted in Harold Rosenberg, “Interview with Willem de Kooning.” ARTnews 71, September 1972, p. 57) Maintaining the unmistakable traces of de Kooning’s remarkable touch and fluid wrist, the pictorial immediacy and polychromatic intensity of the present work testify to the artist’s continued admiration of the European Post-Impressionists, furthering his investigation of their painterly legacy begun in such earlier, quasi-figurative masterworks as Excavation and Attic of 1950. Indeed, in its mesmerizing vibrancy and fluid grace, the swirling forms of Amityville are particularly evocative of the brilliant, color-soaked landscape of Arcadia as depicted in Matisse’s revered Fauvist masterpiece, Le Bonheur de Vivre of 1905-06; testifying to de Kooning’s profound admiration for the Post-Impressionist master, whose visionary investigation of color and light played a defining role in shaping the development of his practice, the virtuosic abstraction of the present work is perhaps most eloquently summarized by certain descriptions of Matisse’s work: “We are no longer required to read the figures one after the other, but merely invited to let ourselves be invaded by the polychromatic orchestration and rhythmic organization, which have to be apprehended in a single breath, so to speak, rather than gradually perceived through a painstaking build-up of details; the space of a picture is the one we actually breathe in” (Georges Duthuit, “Matisse and Byzantine Space,” Transition 49, no. 5, 1949, pp. 20-37) Bespeaking a deep engagement with the natural world, Amityville invokes the raucous, untamed beauty of bright daylight upon the Atlantic ocean, the jubilant yellow passages swelling into the sea green forms like so many cresting waves; swirling around these central forms, shimmering ribbons of lavender and fuchsia pigment complement the warm golden hue that dominates the painting, as lush and verdant as wild beach flowers sprouting amongst wave-washed pebbles on the beach.
It was in the late 1960s and early 1970s that de Kooning’s long-time obsession with the female form eclipsed his newfound love for his surroundings, two fascinations that brilliantly coalesce in Amityville. Jörn Merkert writes of this critical moment: “Very soon after de Kooning’s move to Long Island, the female figure again became the focus of his work...though his painterly expression was now more closely related, in details, to the abstract landscapes than to the earlier, controversial Women, the bodies and faces of the women in these new images were just as violently distorted toward the demonic, even diabolic...Larger than life, the figures look as though they had been distorted and misshapen by the pressure exerted by the agitated, interwoven forces of the surrounding brushwork.” (Paul Cummings, Jörn Merkert, and Claire Stoullig, eds., Willem de Kooning: Drawings, Paintings, Sculpture, New York, 1983, pp. 127-128) Indeed, from this radiant sun-drenched Atlantic seascape, hints and clues to a human body emerge, as if the artist fused his earlier women right into the trascendental natural elements of Long Island. From the riot of jubilant color, suggestions of legs, feet, arms, and breasts begin to emerge, the creamy white and and candy pink ‘flesh’ outlined in thick crimson ribbons. Two organic shapes of rosy pink pulled in wide swaths begin to suggest breasts that recall the iconic Woman I from 1950-52, held in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Nowhere is de Kooning’s grand ability as a master of color and gesture more poetically asserted than in the vibrant, saturated juxtaposition of figure and landscape in this entirely unique abstract painting. With this vibrancy of palette, coupled with the genius of paint handling and sure command of compositional form, Amityville emphatically reinforces one of the most vital characteristics of de Kooning’s prodigious and celebrated oeuvre: his continual, unrelenting insistence upon exploration, freedom, and growth.
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