de Kooning - A Biography - Stevens, Swan

I first saw de Kooning’s  paintings in the U.S. Pavilion at the 1962 Seattle world’s Fair when I was twelve.  I have been following his work from his mid-career until the Linda and Paul McCartney phase when he was propped up at his huge canvasses at his Long Island studio In full Alzheimer’s dementia with assistants mixing paint by the gallon and Elaine moving his arm around the canvas.  This book tells the whole story beginning with his difficult childhood in Holland.  He was a drawing prodigy as a child and achieved success in art school.  Here again we have a very difficult mother.  deKooning’s mother regularly  beat him as a child and abused him emotionally, she also lived to a ripe old age.  There must be something therapeutic about abusing one‘s sons.   Something about these problematic mothers  fuels greatness.  This book is a wonderful history of the New York art scene that centered on Tenth Street and eventually the Cedar Tavern where Pollock, Kline and  de Kooning would drink themselves into conversation-filled oblivion nightly. de Kooning was  painter’s painter who planted himself in front of his work each day and remained there grappling with issues from his deep sub-conscious until his energy drained off.  His wife Elaine, also a painter, was a huge benefit to his career.  She was the social adept whose ambition for them both drew her to the critics and gallery owners who could lift a career from nowhere to the radar screen.  She slept his way to the top.  You can smell the oil paint and turpentine in this book.  You can feel deK working his canvas day after day, week after week in a self-imposed deep therapy session, struggling.  After the portraits of his mother emerged in the “Women” series he began to drink himself into a stupor every day and continued drinking for many years quickly  eroding the edge from his work.  For a few years during the late 50s after the Jackson Pollock smoke cleared, it was deKooning who emerged as the titan of the new York School.  He was well-liked by all who met him and in his heyday,  always generous with praise for less well known painters.