Held in the same family collection since its acquisition directly from the artist, L'Homme de la Terre (Man of the Earth) is a joyful frenzy of vitality and sculpted layers of paint. The present work was purchased by painter and collector David Carr, who developed a friendship with Appel shortly thereafter. Together they would frequent galleries in Paris and London, and Carr often dined with Appel at his home in Montparnasse. The two maintained a long and warm correspondence. As both an artist and a collector, Carr was well-established in the London art scene and became close to many of the artists whose works he purchased and loved. In L'Homme de la Terre (Man of the Earth) a background of richly tactile black accentuates luminous smears of crimson, yellow spirals, and drips of orange. The dense, impastoed layers of paint, often applied in an eruption straight out of the tube and onto the canvas, alludes to the passioned rhythms produced by the great musicians Appel so admired: Charles Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie, and Miles Davis.
Appel’s impressive paintings from the mid- to late-1950s are often classified as the artist’s informal period, during which his works became significantly more abstract and theatrical than the earlier CoBrA canvases. The present work allows for an open-ended interpretation, in part because Appel never completely conceded to abstraction, but rather remained forever invested in figurative sources. Further, the painting marks the artist’s complete and untroubled engagement with materiality; the powerful graphic gestures in the dimensional and undulating surface captures an essential ebullience of form, making L'Homme de la Terre (Man of the Earth) one of Appel’s most phenomenal works of this period.
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