Willem de Kooning On Escaping the Formulaic

Since today is the 120th anniversary of Willem de Kooning’s birthday, I am reminded by my staff of thousands of his fervent efforts “to break the willed articulation of the image.” Which, as it happens, is not dissimilar to the goal of the cut-up procedure in writing, intended by Brion Gysin and William Burroughs to free the mind and language itself from preconceived formulations. Nor is it a bad follow-up to yesterday’s blogpost about Cut Up or Shut Up.

“If anything ever does work in my case, it works from that moment when consciously I don’t know what I’m doing. [. . .] You see, you don’t know how the hopelessness in one’s working will make one just take paint and just do almost anything to get out of the formula of making a kind of illustrative image — I mean I just wipe it all over with a rag or use a brush or rub it with something or anything or throw turpentine and paint and everything else on the thing to try to break the willed articulation of the image, so that the image will grow, as it were, spontaneously and within its own structure, and not my structure. Afterwards, your sense of what you want comes into play, so that you begin to work on the hazard that has been left to you on the canvas. And out of all that, possibly, a more organic image arises than if it was a willed image.” — Willem de Kooning

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