Willem de Kooning's Technique of Painting

by Casandra Maier
Willem de Kooning's technique used thick, boldly colored lines to create abstract figures.

Willem de Kooning's technique used thick, boldly colored lines to create abstract figures.

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Willem de Kooning, perhaps one of the most revered artists of the abstract expressionist movement after Jackson Pollock, was most famous for his technique known as action painting. Willem de Kooning was born in the Netherlands on April 24,1904, and died in East Hampton, N.Y., on March 19, 1997. His technique for painting was abstract and highly emotional, and it went through many transformations during his life.

Action Painting

De Kooning's action painting differs from regular painting in that the artist utilizes more than his wrist and fingers when applying paint to the canvas with a brush. Action painters use their entire bodies -- their arms, shoulders and even legs -- to create momentum in applying the paint. De Kooning's technique appeared erratic with bold movements, but he put great amounts of thought into his work. His paintings were in continual motion, as he often revisited and adjusted or added to them.

Color and Brushstrokes

De Kooning's use of color was both bold and experimental. He went through many transformations in his work, changing his style and use of color. Although some works are bold and filled with color, others are muted and use few colors. His brushstroke technique also changed over the years. His early works are known for their broad, bold lines. But in the 1960s he started using a different technique, with thin curly lines of light colors. De Kooning was also known for being aggressive with his brush, splashing paint onto the canvas and scraping paint as it dried.

Human Form

To paint the human form, de Kooning was abstract, ambiguous and often geometric. He had a particular fascination with the female form, painting women with exaggeratedly large breasts and hips. Some of his paintings were regarded as paintings of female symbols as opposed to paintings of actual women. His later works involved women whose bodies melded into landscapes. Although his figures were abstract, they were recognizable to the viewer. He was also known for painting figures that were dismembered and reassembled, and also distorted.


De Kooning used emotion as a technique. He allowed his emotions to guide him into movements that allowed the viewer to see the technique that he used to create an action painting. Paint was applied sometimes spontaneously, frenziedly, or in a primitive manner. A great deal of thought was mixed with impulsiveness in the way he applied paint. His early works were a mixture of sexuality and violent imagery, and his later works largely involved landscapes.

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