Willem de Kooning was known as one of the major artists of the Abstract Expressionism period. In the post World War II era, de Kooning painted in the style that is referred to as Abstract expressionism, Action painting, and the New York School. Like all Modern art, the intent of these forms of art was not to produce beauty, but critical reflection. The intent was to awaken in the viewer a recognition of the specific, usually social or political, concern of the artist (New World, 2008). De Kooning reflected this period by working in such as a way as to both eschew all traces of visible reality in the painting as well as to create uncontrolled and sometimes violent gestures, which is reminiscent of this time (Gale Encyclopedia, 2006). His works show great emotion, mostly of a tortured, aggressive nature, which was thought of by many to be the ultimate expression of this abstract period.
De Kooning had painted women regularly in the early 1940s and again from 1947 to 1949. The biomorphic shapes of his early abstractions can be interpreted as female symbols. It was not until 1950 that he began to explore the subject of women exclusively. De Kooning famously said, "Flesh is the reason oil paint was invented" (MoMA, 2010), and although he often worked in an abstract style he continually returned to the human figure. In the summer of that year, he began Woman I, which went through innumerable metamorphoses before it was finished in 1952.
Woman, I is the first in a series of de Kooning works on the theme of Woman, of which there are six in the series. The group is influenced by images ranging from Paleolithic fertility fetishes to American billboards, and the attributes of this particular figure seem to range from the vengeful power of the goddess to the hollow seductiveness of the calendar pinup. Combining both raw voluptuousness and menace, Women I reflects the age–old cultural ambivalence between the reverence for and fear of the power of the feminine (MoMA, 2010).
The technical components of Women I help to capture the meaning of the piece. For example, lines within art express emotion, create depth, or define a space. In Women I, her body is outlined in thick and thin black lines, which continue in loops, streaks, and drips, taking on an independent life of their own. These lines express aggressive emotion, and define the woman as dominant by taking over the entire space of the painting. The form of Women I, which allows the view to mentally capture the work and better understand it, is a woman with gigantic eyes, massive breasts, and a toothy grin. This can be used to reverse traditional female representations. Abrupt, angular strokes of orange, blue, yellow, and green pile up in multiple directions as layers of color are applied, scraped away, and restored. This use of intense color serves to heighten the woman’s threatening gaze and ferocious grin and show her as even more aggressive and less feminine than how the...