26 April 2015

E de K

E de K
by Andy Weddington
Sunday, 26 April 2015

"A painting to me is primarily a verb, not a noun, an event first and only secondarily an image." E de K

For this Sunday morning something light - in topic and length. Something in line with a devoted practitioner of the gentlemanly arts. Art. Painting. 

If in the vicinity of Washington, D. C., make it a point to journey downtown, northwest, to the corner of 8th and F Streets - there sits The National Portrait Gallery.

Use the convenient Metro - exit at Gallery Place-Chinatown. 

Once clear of the station and on the street the museum entrance is a short half block away.

Enter. Pass the reception desk. And proceed up the gently sweeping carpeted stairway to the second deck.

Proceed through the Hall of Presidents - all of whom are dead except Carter, Bush, Clinton, Bush, and Obama. Take a look at some of the portraits - Washington's is a classic. Kennedy's is especially good. So is Grover Cleveland's. And Eisenhower's. The latter three look alive. Some others do too. Johnson's not so much - he looks dead. Could be he was when sitting for it. And the artist got him exactly right. Hurd (Peter) was the artist. The president was not particularly fond of the painting and it was said by critics that artists were welcome to be seen in Washington, D.C., but not Hurd. 

Continue walking.

And then you come to E de K.

What or who is E de K?

E de K was an original.

A painter.

The paintings - portraits - alive. 

Kennedy a sitter. There are a dozen or so of him - in oil, watercolor, and charcoal (and those only a sampling of many). He was the painter's most famous subject, bringing some notoriety and some fame; if only name recognition in lieu of wealth.  

The style unmistakeable. Painterly. As paintings should be. The images above not doing the originals justice - in size, color, texture, boldness, nor feel. Not even close. The seated full-figure painting looms - seeming nearly 10 feet tall (as Kennedy was to many - bigger than life). So I say again, the image of the painting is not the painting.

Stunning works they are.  

But who is E de K?

E de K was the painter's signature.

A signature concocted for two purposes - to establish and simultaneously to mask identity. Clever. 

See, the painter was married to a famous painter.

A he.

And she wanted her painting to be evaluated on her merit (not his) and not on gender - a big problem of her time. And long before, too. A painter she was. Not a female painter. The problem solved with a gender-neutral signature.

She was an exceptional painter. 

Talented, yes. She worked, too. The necessary mix. 

She went her own way.

E de K - Elaine de Kooning.

Wife of Bill.

That is, Willem (de Kooning) - the abstract expressionist. 

Married more than four decades they lived apart most of those years. Never divorced. A strange relationship. 

She is right - paintings are verbs. Paintings are process. And her portraits, of the abstract expressionist genre, live. 

She left her mark - E de K, and her mark on painting. 

Elaine de Kooning: Portraits - the exhibit runs through 10 January 2016. 

Do not miss if anywhere near the city. And if within means and time to travel just to see the exhibit, go!

Post Script

A small but open area at the back of the exhibit, with a dozen or so chairs and wall-mounted screen, serves as theatre to view a short film of E de K working on a portrait (with sitter). A couple of his portraits on display. Colorful, vibrant, and painterly they are - alive. Interesting - to watch and hear her. It ties the paintings together. It makes it feel as if she's present. It's as if the film is the exhibit's final brushstroke. 

Elaine de Kooning (1918-1989) - accomplished painter. And writer. 

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