Appel, Karel – Dutch Artist

Karel Appel (Dutch, 1921 to 2006)

In the years immediately following World War II, there was an explosion of fresh artistic talent in Europe, as well as in the United States. Jean Dubuffet, Asger Jorn, Antonio Tapies and Francis Bacon, to name only a few of the most prominent of these artists, consciously sought to alter the face of European art by finding new artistic syntheses among the still-swirling currents of cubism, surrealism, and expressionism. Among the most important of these new European faces was the Dutch painter, Karel Appel.

Appel was an active voice in European art in the late 20th century, but he made his most revolutionary contributions in the late 1940′s and 1950′s. In 1948, he was one of the co-founders both of the Dutch Experimental Group and the international CoBrA Group, named after the cities Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam from which its members originated. The CoBrA Group, emerging from the ashes of war and the tyranny of Nazi occupation, openly rejected all doctrinaire solutions and all “traditional” art and endorsed instead a philosophy of unfettered freedom, individuality and improvisation. Among Appel’s first notorious works were his “objets poubelles” (rubbish objects), which in their use of found objects pre-date the work of Robert Rauschenberg by a full decade. By the early 1950′s, he had returned to painting, but the images of “Personages” that he began to create were both astonishingly brutal and childlike in their expressionism.

Of his paintings of 1953 to 1958, Appel wrote: “To paint is to destroy what preceded. I never try to make a painting, but a chunk of life. It is a scream; it is a night; it is like a child; it is a tiger behind bars” (quoted in Hugo Claus, Karel Appel, Painter (1962)). “I Mannetje” of 1953 is one of the earliest of this group of “Personages”, whose primitive power established Appel’s reputation and led many to compare his work to that of Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock. As in the other paintings of this series, the paint is applied thickly, directly out of the tube, and then roughly manipulated with whatever tools were available including hands and fingers. The large head, great round eyes, stick hands and rudimentary torso and legs are also typical, and are deliberately meant to evoke the art both of children and of the insane.

P4A acknowledges the assistance of Shannons Fine Arts Auctioneers in preparing this reference note.

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