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How to paint like Willem de Kooning - Part 2

Continue to explore the multi-layered techniques of Willem de Kooning with Corey D'Augustine in the second part of How to Paint like Willem de Kooning | IN THE STUDIO. Click here for Part 1 of How to Paint like Willem de Kooning | IN THE STUDIO: https://youtu.be/r7sJ_WNiSrs Explore the techniques of other New York School painters like Kusama, Rothko, and Pollock in MoMA's new free, online course, "In the Studio: Postwar Abstract Painting." Sign up: http://mo.ma/inthestudio Subscribe for our latest videos: http://mo.ma/subscribe Explore our collection online: http://mo.ma/art Plan your visit in-person: http://mo.ma/visit Over the course of a career lasting nearly seven decades, de Kooning would work through a wide array of styles, eventually cementing himself as a crucial link from New York School painting to European modernism. Physical labor and countless revisions were constants in his work, which ranged from abstraction to figuration, often merging the two. “I never was interested in how to make a good painting…,” he once said. “I didn’t work on it with the idea of perfection, but to see how far one could go…” The female figure was an especially fertile subject for the artist. His paintings of women were among his most controversial works during his lifetime and continue to be debated today. — Education at MoMA is made possible by a partnership with Volkswagen of America. Featuring Corey D'Augustine, Educator and Independent Conservator. The comments and opinions expressed in this video are those of the speaker alone, and do not represent the views of The Museum of Modern Art, its personnel, or any artist.  #art #moma #museum #modernart #artist #paint #painting #howtopaint #learntopaint #abstract #dekooning #willemdekooning #abstractart #modernism #modernist.

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Video transcript

Okay, welcome back to MoMa. My name Corey D'Augustine. This is part two of In the Studio Willem de Kooning. In fact, we're here because of some of the comments that you left for us. Thanks for them. And as I drew your attention to last time, de Kooning is an artist who is very process-oriented. He's labor-intensive. So the idea of doing a de Kooning-esque painting in a day is kind of a joke. The idea of doing a de Kooning-esque painting in two days is also still kind of a joke, but I think you're going to see, you know, by the time we get to the end of this session, that the painting is going to be a lot closer to a de Kooning than where we are right now, which is quite frankly quite far. He’s someone who reinvented himself again and again and again and again. So there certainly isn’t one way, there certainly aren’t a hundred ways to make a deKooning, since he was relentlessly inventive. So, again, a really complicated artist that we’re talking abou. What I'm doing here today and in the first video is picking out some motifs, some material, some application techniques here. And I'm putting everything together in a way that hopefully is going to get us close to a de Kooning-ish painting, but really the point here is to embrace and engage with some of his working methods and materials. So if we turn our attention to the painting itself here, kind of a monstrosity. Some really wild, nice, wet in wet, scuffing going on, some scrape marks, some drips cascading down the canvas quite interestingly. The charcoal from last time, embedded in the paint film, which is now dry to the touch. But you'll see this in many de Kooning works. That being said, this painting has some issues, no doubt about it. One of them up here, just a very kind of unresolved and rather ugly to my eye and a combination of colors and textures. Spatially it's looking a little like spaghetti. There's not a real density of the painting. Now, there are certain areas that are very rock solid like here, parallel with the edge of the canvas, and this nice yellow plane back here. The best de Kooning paintings are tight, and I'm talking about the space, the painting is very dense. This is something I'll continue to talk about as we start painting. At any rate,I kind of have a plan for where we're going to go next. Now in the studio, it's not great to have too rigid of a plan. It's nice to have an idea of where you're going, but stay open, stay flexible. So we've made some paint in weeks past, but I'm just going to amplify some of that yellow. It's a cadmium yellow, working with a rather fleshy consistency here. So that's cadmium yellow. I'm working with a little bit of buff titanium here. Buff titanium is nice because it makes the color a little bit more neutral, rather than these screaming and pure high chroma colors. A little bit of medium here, this is linseed oil, and about the same volume of solvent. This one is Gamsol, that's basically just odorless mineral spirits. Also I'm going to be working with some black, a color that...or a non-color that we don't have on the canvas yet. De Kooning and many, many other artists prefer not to use just a plain black straight out of the tube, but let's say a chromatic black. So black plus a little bit of color. Black itself can be very flat and dead, kind of boring a tone. So what we're going to do here, in fact I've already added a lot of black, I'm going to add a little bit of red to that, a little bit of blue to that, ultramarine blue with cadmium red. And again, a little bit of buff titanium. Lighten it up a little bit. Make it a little bit more neutral. I've already added some medium and some solvent in here. And essentially what I'm going to do is make a really dark purple, rather than a black, just to have a little bit of purple character in there, to have a little bit of variety because I will be working with a black-black and then kind of a purplish-black as well. Okay, so one of the things that we're going to be doing today is wet over dry technique. One of the problems with the first phase of painting is that everything is wet. And if you've tried to paint like this as a novice oil painter, it's very often a very common mistake that these paints just continue to combine and combine and combine wet in wet, which can be very interesting and giving these very fluid gestural marks here, but also can tend toward brown and everything mixing in kind of a dead heavy way. So we're going to be working wet over dry. But another interesting that you can do with a dry paint surface is scrape it off in a very different way than I scraped previously. You remember that this area was scraped, wet paint came off there and what we see is a little bit of a white ground, the texture of the canvas and some of these charcoal marks that I began the work with. Now, if I start to scratch now or scrape now, a very different kind of thing, this is really chiseling. It's a very sculptural technique here. I've kind of flayed back into the surface. Flattened out that impasto there, and also revealed a very matte surface rather than a glossy one, and actually a slightly different color because the surface of a paint film often dries slightly different than the interior of it. Now, you certainly don't have to start scarping all this stuff off, but if there are areas that you don't like or textures that you don't like, this is certainly a nice time that you can start to remove them. Now, one of the things I'd like to do to begin here, since I'm trying to bring this painting forward in space to really allow these forms, to co-mingle a little bit is to start working with some white in the upper and lower registers of the painting. Now, if I added white to this painting while wet, well, it might be interesting, but we're going to pick up a lot of those colors and that white is not going to stay white for very long at all. Working white wet over dry allows us to really bring some more opacity to the equation, not pick up those under layers and really knock out some of those areas. Okay. What I'd like to do next is really to start opening up that yellow. So let's see where that takes us. And you can see that the yellow I mixed today is a little darker, it's a little bit more richly chromatic, a little bit more intense than that previous yellow. And I like this. It's nice to have, you know, some cousins of colors rather than really repeating the same color again and again. De Kooning would sometimes place newsprint directly onto the surface of his painting. Now, I don't think that he meant originally to transfer images or text onto the paint film. I think that originally when he did that, he wanted to keep the surface from drying. Why? Because sometimes he wanted to keep working wet in wet, the next week, the next month perhaps, and have it not dry as my canvas has here. In fact the text of old newsprint would dissolve in that solvent, and it would be actually transfer onto the face of the painting. As I take this off, you'll say, "Well, that's kind of interesting, an interesting texture there, but I don't see any newsprint." The reason why is that newspaper technology has, well, I guess improved since the '50s, but not in the context of making a de Kooning type painting. But imagine I transferred some of that text onto the surface here, strange, an abstract painting that starts to have newspaper effects in it. Maybe it's the news, maybe it's a photo, maybe it's, you know, some sports box score or something like that. Well, it's important to think about de Kooning as often going the other way, often playing a kind of contrarian card. Again, remember that in 1950, when almost all the New York School painters were painting abstractly, de Kooning painted the figure. Well, how about the figure? One of the things that de Kooning would do to incorporate the figure, even in sometimes abstract paintings, is to start working with drawings. And I've made a, you know, not a de Kooning drawing obviously, but a de Kooning type drawing. But before I start to add that to the painting, I'm going to do something that might seem a little weird. I'm going to turn the painting on its side. In fact when de Kooning had the means to do so, he built himself an amazing studio out in the east end of Long Island, getting himself out of the chaos of Manhattan. And in that studio that he really designed himself quite aggressively, he sort of invented, I don't know if that's really the right word, but he designed a custom-made easel, which actually is mechanically rotatable. So in fact, there's a kind of a trap door in the floor so that a huge canvas could rotate down, so that really 360 degree rotation would be possible without, you know, having the canvas fall off the easel. The reason for this is that de Kooning, again, loved to make everything difficult, and it's one of the really wonderful things about his paintings. By rotating the canvas, we're accessing different angles and different geometries of the human body because there are some motions that our bodies just don't naturally tend to go in. So what I'm going to do here is take this de Kooning-ish drawing. This is a fragment of a drawing of a woman's face. Okay. And I'm going to put it where it doesn't belong. In other words, on the surface of a painting and also on an abstract painting. Something quite different from what's happening here. Now, what's happening here? Well, something strange and weird is happening right here. Again, there is this friction, this collage idea where we jump from one logic to another. Now, de Kooning wouldn't simply do this and just leave it there, although occasionally you do find little fragments of paper on his finished paintings. He would do this to start incorporating the logic of one space into another. And what do I mean by that? Is that oftentimes he would continue some of these lines of the drawing onto the space where it doesn't belong. So I'm just going to continue some of these lines. Okay. So in addition to drawing, extending drawing lines off of a previous drawing onto the painting, sometimes he in fact paints off of the drawing onto the painting. Thinking about this shape here, right? This kind of... I don't know what that is. A pepper grinder or something like that, or a part of it. I'm going to reinforce that on the drawing now, but with paint. So through here, around that corner and then down. So first of all, I now have a strange painted drawing, which I'm going to keep around because perhaps in the next canvas, the third canvas, the fifth canvas from now, this might come in handy. In fact maybe this color is going to be interesting. Or maybe I'll turn this into a work on paper, and eventually this has a life of its own. So I'm getting to have an understanding of what de Kooning studio practice is like. This is strange, right? All of these drawn lines just stop on an edge, as if it were scraped off. But of course, you know it wasn't. It was actually on a different surface. And then here, really nice and interesting, this beautiful thick brush stroke here stops off in a very non-handmade way, right? I could never have painted that mark despite, you know, however much effort I put into it because there's something very linear about that and that crisp lip of paint there is something that maybe I'm going to keep around, this kind of remembrance or a relic of this very complicated process. Speaking of complicated process, let's keep on complicating it. We're now in an inverted position from where we started, and things are beginning to tighten up here. We're starting to get more blocky planes of color. We start having some interesting moments where under layers are visible here. Certainly some of the gestures and the shapes from the original composition are staying here. I'm also quieting this painting down, there's kind of this raucous cacophony of all of these battling hues, and it's starting to chill out a little bit, if you will, it's starting to quiet down here. Now, I'm going to amplify that yellow a little bit, to keep on going. So this is really one of the structural components that I'm going to be working with here. Also what I'm going to do is I'm going to start to use those marks that came off of that painting as a kind of guideline for where I may work next. For example, I have this interesting black line here. So I'm going to follow that. And I have another interesting black line coming down here, which happens to coincide actually with that corner. So I'm going to start using that as well. To my eye, what's happening here is we're starting to get some interesting planes of color. We're starting to get some interesting relationships between marks. Here is an awkward one though. Here is something that off to a nice start here, but strangely continues in wide and has this unconvincing bend here. So we need to do some heavy editing there. Also, the relationship between this U shape, or whatever, yellow mark that I've made, and the white is very nebulous, so I'm going to start to interweave them a little bit. And to do that, I'm going to start working with black. Or again, what I mentioned before, this kind of chromatic black. It's actually a very dark violet that I'm going to be working with here. These drips, quite interesting and a symbol of the speed of the paint, the fluidity of the paint. And you know, any time you start to see drips like that, you start to realize that they're going to look really interesting. If we just keep on rotating here. Now, how often did de Kooning rotate his canvases? Well, we'd have to ask him to know that answer for sure. Now, some interesting things are happening. Those black brush strokes, sorry, paint drips here, they're going really horizontally. So in a way, you might be tricked into thinking that there was a kind of, you know, this kind of elbow gesture explosion of paint across the canvas, but then when you realize how linear these are and how parallel they are, actually you realize that pretty soon we're going to have drips going in all of these different directions. So this time I'm just going to use a straight black, which hopefully is going to look a little bit different than that black, a kind of squarish shape that I just applied. Now, one thing, you know, you can probably already realize here, it's almost silly to say, is that this painting has changed a lot really quickly. De Kooning's paintings often, not always, did this. And in general, this is a nice idea in the studio not to fall in love too much with what you've already done, but to always be willing to risk that, to gamble that on a better painting and a more interesting composition. But another approach that de Kooning did occasionally use in his works is to work with enamel paint. Now enamel, different from the oils that we're working with here, enamel is a household paint. In other words, it's coming out of a can like this rather than a tube. And in the can, as you know from painting your bedroom or your picket fence, you're talking about some very fluid and usually very opaque, very pigment-rich paint. It's also very fast paint. So it's the kind of thing that, again, like some of the paints I've prepared here, really is great for action painting, Harold Rosenberg's term here, brush strokes that really recall the speed of the gesture with which they were applied. Now, famously in Woman I here in the Moderns Collection of 1950, in fact I worked on that painting for 18 months, so I'm not exaggerating here, that painting has a band of aluminum enamel paint down the right-hand side. De Kooning often worked with black and white and sometimes aluminum paint. I'm going to do something similar to that here. When working with enamels, make sure you give them a good stir first because the pigment tends to settle out towards the bottom in kind of a sludge. And I'm going to reinforce the left margin of the painting here with this aluminum and we'll see what happens. So what this serves to do is to really push the composition forward. This is a flattening device, and this is the type of painting that I chose to pursue today, a more flat, spatially tight painting, and that's a really nice device to do that. As we did last time, removing paint again is a really important aspect of a de Kooning process, and usually a de Kooning process at any rate. However, when we remove paint today, it's going to be quite different from how we did that in the first part of this video. Since before, I'm removing paint from, well, nothing except a white priming with some charcoal on it. Here I'm going to be removing it from paint. So as I start to flay into this surface a little bit, some interesting things are happening here. First of all, I'm revealing some of the colors from that under layer. I'm also, as you saw, getting tripped up by some of that impasto and I'm making these unforeseen little skips in the paint film, etc. And I like this. It's quite interesting. It is something that, again, I'm embracing here as a painter. But it's a little bit unpredictable because I've obliterated them. I don't know exactly where those bits of impasto are. Now, again, de Kooning is often celebrated for this very explosive moments of painting. And this really does look an explosion of pink paint. To my eye, very beautiful, the way that this paint is almost electrically cascading across the surface here, these little zigzags, these microscopic little blips of paint here and there. De Kooning is often celebrated for this kind of work. But it's really important to understand that far more than he's actually at the surface, you know, hacking and slashing, if you will, he's actually at a great distance and really looking and really thinking about his paintings. So we could see that the paintings, the compositions from a global perspective, from a great distance, to really understand how the composition works. Rather than getting lost here in the trees, so to speak, he's back looking at the forest. Well, I don't quite have the space to do that here in Manhattan. Go figure. But already I can start to see there are some interesting things. Some more cubist inflected things are happening here. It's gotten a little bit...it's lost a little bit of the dynamism or the action of the composition. And what do I mean by that? Well, these shapes are very blocky and rectangular. Now, part of that is good because I'm really tightening up the composition. Part of the point here is to understand what the painting wants to do, not really what you wanna do, what the hand wants to do, but how can the composition grow? What does it want? For me anyway, what it wants is to follow this upward, break up that horizontal black line, which is a little bit too graphic, a little bit too flattening. And let's see what happens. Now, already what you can see because I'm working with a light color over a dark color, wet in wet, it does not have the legs at all that that black did when I was working over a light color. One trick here, if you wanna keep the yellowness, don't push down so much. I was kind of scrubbing there. This next stroke, I'm going to apply the yellow more lightly. So we're not really forcing those colors to mix. So I'm going to keep a little bit more of the yellow on the surface here. Now, it worked but what you can see there is there's a lot more paint. So when in doubt, when there's too much color, start scraping. I'm starting to realize that these two lines, if you will, these two areas are roughly parallel to each other, and I might wanna make that a little bit more dynamic. I also might wanna start making more of a relationship between this black square-ish, rectangle-ish kind of guy in this yellow zone or space underneath. I'm going to choose to make a very fluid paint here, and I'm going to use a really loud gesture as I did in the pink there in a more horizontal character. I have this nice kind of teal, aqua-ey, kind of turquoise-y paint made up here. I'm going to add a little bit more oil to it because this one I really wanna pop. I'm going to be using my elbow and wrist and I really wanna make sure that the velocity or the speed of that gesture is really translated is really captured, if you will, kinetically on the surface of painting. Okay. So there is a kind of Jackson Pollock type gesture actually, a very loud, a very dynamic. It might be a little too much. It might be a little tacky, it might be a little bit cheesy. In fact, the brush didn't even hit the canvas. I missed slightly. I like parts of this, but in here maybe it's a little bit too much so, again, I can start doing some editing. Nah. Sometimes this happens. I think that was a mistake because what happened, I wanted to quiet down that part of that bluish green color, but in fact what I did, I wasn't thinking, I probably should have taken more time, is I reinforced that edge of the black, which is actually what I was trying to undo. Now that stroke was short and sweet, but it actually changed a lot because suddenly this background, which a minute ago we argued was the farthest away from our eye, the one that's really receding its space, suddenly I tangled that background in with the foreground. Since this is physically on top of a lot of those other really forward-thrusting kind of planes. But I'm going to go back and, again, not take it easy. I always choose the more challenging route. A very de Kooning kind of an idea here. So let's start working with another drawing on the surface. In fact before we do that, let's make another turn. So obviously I've torn the drawing here, making a nice edge there. I've also pushed the painting or the drawing up against the painting, vertically a little bit to stretch or smear that paint, and I'm roughly reinforcing again that band of silver that I laid in there a few minutes ago. So let's do a little more drawing. So I kept on, you know, breaking the surface here. The reason to do that, breaking the surface of the charcoal, this is soft vine charcoal that I'm working with, to expose fresh charcoal. So I'm not taking the previous wet paint because clearly the paint is still extremely wet, and I am pushing that paint around as much as I am smearing the graphite around. Okay. Okay. So what you were just seeing there was me fighting and fussing a little bit with the upper portion of the composition trying to get these, you know, enmeshed a little bit more and fussing about edges, a little bit of that. Now, it's sort of working and it's sort of not. I have some of these marks, which are still a little bit hard. I do like some of this stuff though, some evidence of where I was working over here, but it's extended all the way over here. And again, this is because the paint is wet. It's very fluid and this paint is really made for a recording the traces of your own hand as well as your own body. But again, for me, I'm still fussing up here, and some of these effects, I don't really like here. So again, removing paint is a great way to start fixing things. Okay. So I think a good time to call it quits for today, the painting has changed a ton, obviously. I think it's really grown forward. You might be thinking, "Well, what was the point of all of that under painting if this is where we're going?" Two points. First of all, I didn't know that this was where we're going. And then second of all, that under painting is actually quite visible still in this work. You might be thinking, "What are you talking about?" Certain colors are really visible, but really it's these scrape marks. It's these very uncontrolled, but really accepted and not preconceived, but invited in other words, marks to happen, which has everything to do with not only the color, but the texture of that under painting. Now, the more you want that texture to play up, the more scraping you're going to be doing, or the more really fast painting that you're going to be doing. Now, is this a finished painting? Well, if I put on my de Kooning hat, definitely no. However, I think it could be a finished-ish painting. Me personally, I would like this to dry. I'd like to have one more session, working wet over dry. I was really fussing and laboring down here and I'm still not really happy with it. I lost some of the geometry in the yellow with the more muddy yellow I put in. This is still pretty murky and unresolved down here. However, when it's really wet like this, it becomes harder to clean it up and it becomes harder to add space to it. One way you saw me try at the end there, Jackson Pollock's way for adding space to a painting is to add white to it. You can do that, or a light pink to it, with a little explosion like that. However, if I really start trying to put in a zone of white paint here, as you saw me try to do a couple of times, I'm going to lose it. It's going to become quite murky. So I would probably plan to have at least one more painting session here, tightening up things with a little bit wet over dry technique, but I think we are far more than halfway home here, or at least we could be. So at any rate, here we are with a de Kooning type painting, de Kooning style painting, mixing and matching from a lot of different periods of his career, working with a variety of materials, methods, and getting us somewhere reasonably close to the aesthetics of a Willem de Kooning painting. For more of this kind of thing, definitely check out the Coursera course that called In the Studio: Postwar Abstract Painting. And by the way, you know, there has been a lot of interest here, we're going to continue this series. A couple of things. So first of all, if there is another artist or movement you'd like to see explored, drop us that information down below in the comment. And the next one that we have scheduled for sometime pretty soon is to attack Cubism. Cubism came up in today's conversation on de Kooning, de Kooning absolutely thinking about cubism in the 1940s and '50s. We're going to explore the work of Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso and artists like that. We are going to explore how to make a cubist painting, but really how to look at a cubist painting, how to think about it, and making one I think is going to be a really interesting way to help you do that. A pretty difficult movement from the early 20th century, but also absolutely one of the 20th century's most important movements. So if you want to make sure you don't miss that, click on the subscribe button below and I look forward to seeing you again soon. Thanks.