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Bahamian art: Presenting. Uniting. Educating.

Mixed Media Blog

Local and Global: Kendal Hanna and William de Kooning

Within Kendal Hanna's works there is great inspiration and reference to a particular abstract artist. Abstract art could not exist without the influential and prolific contributions of Williem de Kooning, born in Rotterdam, Netherlands on April 24th, 1904. The artist illegally moved to the United States in 1926. De Kooning was a visual mentor to Bahamian artist Kendal Hanna. De Kooning is renowned as the “leading figure of Abstract Expressionism whose painterly gesturalism transcended the conventional definitions of figuration and abstraction and had a substantial influence on art after World War II”, according to Jane Turner editor of The Dictionary of Art.

Similar to Kendal Hanna, de Kooning’s artistic talent was discovered at an early age and working within the art field was a provident career choice. Both artists visited and lived in New York City, NY and became influenced by the museums, culture, social, art and artists of their time. Established artists like Picasso, Miró and Mondrian among many others influenced de Kooning, which is sufficiently evident in his artwork during the 1930s and early 1940s. These influential artists became a foundation from which de Kooning was able to create his own abstract style and were the underlining bases in his famous women work series.

Another influential individual that effected de Kooning’s artwork was his wife, Elaine Fried. Before meeting his wife, de Kooning’s prominent painting figures were male nudes, which abruptly change after his marriage union. There is a lot of speculation whether Ms. de Kooning was the sole model for his woman series or if it was the combination of the popular female icons of the time. Either way there is great debate, interest, disguise, and controversy over one particular painting that will now be further addressed, Woman I.

Woman I
Oil on Canvas
75.86in. x 58in.
1950-1952
Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York
Image courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, New York

The creation period was over two years 1950-1952 and this process was documented by photographer, Rudolph Burckhardt, illustrating the changes of the painting from its conception to final piece. One may wonder why there is an issue about this specific piece, truth be told, many art critics, historians and patrons have different views. From its showcase in 1953 in New York at the Sidney Janis Gallery, viewers were shocked by the visual depiction of a nude female. This painting is not a classic photorealistic rendition of a female nude, however, the colors are murky flesh colors, harsh brushstrokes, disproportional and exaggerated body parts. All of these characteristics of the painting, however, fall under the abstract umbrella. In de Kooning’s defense, the painting depicts the ironic commentary on the obsession of film, television and advertisement of presenting an artificial, unrealistic world to its viewers (Turner 162). Considering the representation of women in film during the 1950s, specifically Elizabeth Taylor in the 1954 film, Elephant Walk with de Kooning's Woman I, Taylor’s full skirted dress portrays her breasts as pointy and coned in shape, are also evident in de Kooning's painting. There is an emphasis on the exaggerated minuscule waistline, both seen in the film and in de Kooning’s painting. De Kooning brings attention to the ‘ugly’ truth about the 1950s depiction of women and the false sense of beauty that it projects.


Elephant Walk. Dir. William Dieterle. Paramount Pictures, 1954. Film.

Hanna and de Kooning technique styles are familiar in that both painters used photographs as inspiration and references, however, de Kooning takes the process one step further by placing the photographs onto the canvas, paints over them blurring the ability to separate the two. In Woman I, de Kooning uses a cut and paste a photograph of a woman smile instead of painting this image. Whereas, Hanna uses he grid pattern, discussed in the previous post, as a guide and blocking what areas will contain specific contents, while de Kooning uses the placement of the photographs as his ‘grid’.

In conclusion, both artists document their culture, surroundings and the influential subjects of the time. De Kooning documented women representation of the 1950s and in the same likeness Hanna documented Vincent D’Aguilar a prominent Bahamian art collector of our time. Visit The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas to view Kendal Hanna’s Portrait of Vincent D’Aguilar and Portrait of Vincent D’Aguilar After Death paintings.

A de Kooning retrospective exhibition is currently on display at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).

-JB


Works Cited
Turner, Jane, ed. The Dictionary of Art. London: MacMillan, 1998. Print.
This book is available at the NAGB Art Library.

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