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Connections: The Boxer

Today’s post comes from Sadie Burzan, Vassar College class of 2011 and Art Center student docent.

Interviewer: So you’re saying that you can dispense with two thousand years of European culture?
Karel Appel: No, I don’t wish to dispense with it. I wanted to detach myself from it and I did this, otherwise I would have not made this art. I have deliberately turned things upside down. Naturally I use linen, brushes, and oil paint. And I put it on the canvas, not next to it, because then it would fall on the floor.

Karel Appel has been described as a boxer, a comparison made evident in the video above. He wields his brush and palette knife with athleticism, aggression, and intuition. Considering that he predated the New York Abstract Expressionist movement, Appel was especially innovative in his “action painting” technique. For inspiration, Appel looked at children’s drawings and folk art, along with more traditional sources such as Matisse and Picasso. He was always aware of the history of painting, but interested in turning things around – often quite literally. He prided himself on his inventive painting techniques, including painting in the dark and turning his paintings upside down.

Born in Amsterdam, he was one of the founders of the avant-garde movement known as CoBrA. The name CoBrA is an amalgamation of the initials of the cities from which the founders came: Copenhagen, Brussels, and Amsterdam. Founded in 1948, CoBrA members wanted to turn away from the academic attitude of contemporary artists and focus on experimentation and spontaneity. As art critic Michel Ragon wrote, “their humor, their laughter, their gaiety, their Rabelaisian outlook, their love of caricature and the grotesque, their desire to shock, their aggressiveness, occasionally naïve, their cult of the Modern . . . all this was unexpected, unhoped-for, and utterly captivating.”

Reproductions will not do Appel justice. Come see Child and Beast II in the Art Center to see Appel’s vigorous, thick brushwork and vibrant, vibrating colors.

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