Questions of Influences on Abstract Painters


influences abstract painter de kooning

Willem De Kooning, Woman IV

All artists are influenced consciously and subconsciously by what they see, feel, and touch from birth to around age ten.  The artist is often not aware of these influences, which surface after time as the mind begins to process such influences.

For me, growing up in the streets of New York brought accumulating impressions from street surfaces, repaved roads and sidewalks, and everywhere, asphalt meeting concrete. I noticed how surfaces and shapes were repainted, worn down and repainted again. All of these tactile  and visual “joinings” — brick meeting brick meeting tile and scratched pavement — played a part in my early visual memory and later “fed” the paintings I would do in the full breadth of my career.

I was also quite influenced by comic books and bubble gum, and not only the visual and tactile references but also the mysterious, nearly exotic fragrances of printer’s ink in Superman comics and Mad magazines, which I bought with great relish. I inhaled those inks page by page as I breezed through these magazines and periodicals, after riding my bicycle to the candy store which sat only a few hundred yards from our home. Bubble gum, all pink and pasty, came in a variety of formats. This pink bubble gum — wild in color, flat and dusty at times, chunky and thick in other cases — was bought for a penny even. It became crazily flavorful after a few chews. This gum accompanied many of our street games such as stickball, box baseball, or hit the penny. All kids enjoyed blowing bubbles, often exhaling huge ones until the gum wore out and a new piece replaced the old.

During my later 40’s and early 50’s, these visual and tactile influences would surface in my paintings in several ways. One iteration came to be called Dirty White with its white surfaces crumbled and scratched and mixing cooler and warmer whites, the drawing free and bare and without premeditated intention. Pink bubble gum led years later to Big Pink, a series of pink paintings that allowed lots of play with pink, from warmer to cooler tones as well, and allowing for a pink ground to surround and move through enigmatic forms and shapes.

Some say I am still an 8 year old at heart, and this is a good thing.

The child in the artist is a source of continual energy. He is playing in the mind’s eye and on the canvas, undisturbed by adult concerns, swimming freely in the paintings.


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