In 1967, Walker House published de Kooning Drawings, part of a series of illustrated books devoted to various aspects of art history. As you can see, the cover is relatively simple, consisting of a reproduction of Willem de Kooning’s signature and the word “drawings” in the lower right. Inside, readers are presented with facsimile reproductions of twenty-four figure drawings executed in charcoal in 1966. I’m not at all surprised that the publishers decided to do a book featuring a selection of drawings by this pioneering Abstract Expressionist. An artist who viewed drawing as part and parcel of the creative process, Willem de Kooning (1904-1997) drew incessantly throughout his career, creating highly animated works that stand out for their spontaneity, fluidity and lack of finish. As the art historian Paul Cummings has pointed out, his drawings were part of “the process of evolving a vocabulary of images and strokes to be used in the paintings. The painterliness inherent in his manner of using charcoal can be observed in the way he pushes tones and the emphatic, dark, defining lines” (“The Drawings of Willem de Kooning” in Willem de Kooning: Drawings, Paintings, Sculpture, 1983, 22).
Recognizing the power and allure of the drawings chosen for inclusion in de Kooning Drawings, the publishers let them speak for themselves, eliminating the usual art historical commentary that accompanies such publications. Instead, the reproductions are followed by a brief statement by Willem de Kooning in which he described his working process, explaining that he held his charcoal horizontally at all times while making the original drawings. In keeping with the highly improvisatory approach he took to drawing during the 1960s, he also said: “I made them with closed eyes . . . I found that closing the eyes was very helpful to me. Many drawings were made this way, and it was suggested to make this book. I was very pleased with the idea and these 24 drawings were selected.”
I wonder how de Kooning felt about the simple cover of the book, with its dark script set against an expanse of beige paper. Obviously, he viewed it as a surface to be adorned with another drawing, as you can see from this example from the gallery’s inventory, in which de Kooning has embellished one of his books with a portrayal of a crouching woman, her hands held up in the air and her legs spread open as she looks out at the viewer. De Kooning, of course, created hundreds of drawings of voluptuous women, but this one is special. Executed in ink and presumably drawn with “closed eyes,” the figure’s erotic and very exhibitionistic pose complements the images in de Kooning Drawings; she’s inelegant and some might say vulgar, but her broad grin and show-off posture make her thoroughly irresistible. I don’t know the circumstances surrounding the creation of this spirited lady, but it was probably intended as a souvenir––a quick notation––for a friend or colleague who would have appreciated the wry humor of the piece. Suffice to say, its a delightful example of de Kooning’s animated drawing style and demonstrates, as well, his enduring commitment to depicting the female form.