Drawing Seeing/Seeing Drawing

installation view

Large Drawings on Vellum

Note: The following text is excerpted from the essay Drawing No Conclusions by Klaus Kertess, who curated the exhibition. This essay appears in the catalogue that accompanies the exhibition.

Willem de Kooning was always drawing, never making a drawing - "finish" and "closure" were not part of his vocabulary. He often drew on his canvas before starting to paint; in the course of his making, he sometimes drew with charcoal into wet paint; he drew endlessly on paper, with little regard for the differences between a preparatory sketch, a breathless notation, and an individual work. De Kooning was not averse to tearing up a drawing and recombining some of its sections with those of other torn-up drawings. Tearing up could be drawing. First on pieces of tracing paper, later on large sheets of vellum, he made tracings of one or another section of his finished paintings that he might wish to integrate into one or another stage of a subsequent painting. One or many of these tracings might as readily be momentarily stuck onto the gluey viscosity of a painting in process as become an independent drawing on paper.

tracing on vellum
© 1998 Willem de Kooning Revocable Trust/Artist's Rights Society, New York.

no title, ca. 1970-80 charcoal and oil on vellum 52 x 42 in Collection of Willem de Kooning Revocable Trust

As early as the 1940's, in his growing urge to confound the flow of his painting and keep it constantly in motion, more than to focus and stabilize it, de Kooning might partially cover a painting in process with a barrage of tracings on standard sheets of tracing paper. After he moved into his new studio in 1964, he started making these charcoal tracings on large sheets of vellum cut from a roll. The model for each tracing was a section of one or another of the finished paintings, mostly created in the 1960's and 1970's, that de Kooning kept around his studio to help catalyze his self-dialogue. Occasionally, when he arrived at a configuration he might wish to employ in the future, a tracing was made from a painting in process. More often than not, the subject was part of a painting that visibly incorporated a figure, just as the preliminary charcoal drawings on canvas almost always contained a figure, no matter how abstractly that painting might evolve. Many of these tracings were made on both sides of the vellum so that de Kooning also might be able to revive their mirror image. The side chosen to be transferred to canvas was drawn over from the reverse side onto a section of bare canvas, to become part of the beginning of a new painting. A tracing might also be introduced into a painting in process. On occasion, both sides might be inducted into the formation of a new painting.

Willem de Kooning