Willem de Kooning once famously quipped that “flesh was the reason oil painting was invented.” Indeed, this famous declaration from 1950 is readily evidenced in Untitled (Two Women) in which luscious strokes of vibrant colors and fluid forms evoke a sensibility that is at once abstract yet primal, raw and sensual. As with de Kooning's famed Women series that often depict ancient fertility goddesses lying supine in natural landscapes, the present work presents the female form in a provocative manner, evoking a sensuality that is harmoniously blended into textured swirls of paint that characterize the background. While flesh dematerializes into paint, hints of the women’s features remain as tantalizing glimpses of de Kooning's muse, often in the form of red lips and here particularly betokened by luscious lines that caress the curvature of female body parts in a fluid and suggestive manner.
Untitled (Two Women) is significant in that it embodies the integration of both de Kooning’s focus on formal representation in the 1950s and early 1960s with his fixation on nature and color starting from the late 1960s. A dramatic shift in palette and style occurred in the early 1960s when the artist moved from the crowds and rush of urban Manhattan to Eastern Long Island. The present work, executed between 1966 and 1968, was completed at a crucial turning point right after de Kooning purchased a house in the Springs area in East Hampton in 1963. The ocean became a part of his daily regimen and he was captivated by the spectacular light of the long beaches as well as its effect on the reflections on the water. As de Kooning relayed in a 1972 interview with Harold Rosenberg, he developed a fondness for playing with light and colors: “Indescribable tones, almost. I started working with them and insisted that they would give me the kind of light I wanted. One was lighting up the grass. That became that kind of green. One was lighting up the water. That became grey… I got into painting in the atmosphere I wanted to be in. It was like the reflection of light. I reflected upon the reflections on the water, like the fishermen do” (Exh. Cat., Kunstmuseum Basel, De Kooning Paintings, 1960-1980, 2005, p. 152).
The beauty of the coastal views and expanse of natural setting in the environs of Sag Harbor and Montauk are readily transcribed in the present work. Much like de Kooning’s iconic abstract paintings of the 70s, Untitled (Two Women) is characterized by swaths of vibrant paint twirling, writhing, blending and dripping into each other. The varying tones of refreshing and earthy greens link the work to nature, almost as if the two women are dancing on a lush bed of grass. As Bernhard Mendes Bürgi describes it, the picture is an “accumulation of sensations between earth and light and water and sky” (ibid., p. 24). A picture of perfect balance between figuration and abstraction, the energy of Untitled (Two Women) is undeniable, and its allure is ultimately achieved through a combination of improvisation and control perfected through the artist’s lifelong experimentation with form, space and color.
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