Running into de Kooning

Although it seems far more recent in the mind’s eye, it was back in the late 70’s that my dear wife and I rented a house out in the summer of 1979 in the Springs, East Hampton, where I was painting for my very first New York exhibition at Maxwell Davidson Gallery. Little did we know till a few days had passed that we had in fact rented next door to the world famous and very talented painter: Willem de Kooning.

I had been a devoted fan of de Kooning’s work ever since I was introduced to it in art school and very much loved his free swinging brush, and the way he would put a painting together, take it apart and put it back together, usually much stronger for the passages and necessary torture, it (the painting) went through. I am writing this piece from a cottage in Southampton, New York, looking out on grassy fronds and blue green bodies of water, all of it reminding me of that summer in the Springs. East Hampton and other sections of the east end of Long Island had great attraction for many painters of the early 50’s who were working in gritty downtown lofts, often dark and dank, and noisy from trucks rambling below. For de Kooning, the Springs reminded him of parts of Holland with its low lying land and pools of water and grass and a big sky overlooking everything. One would see de Kooning bicycling around in high white painter pant overalls and we chatted just a bit and he rounded this and that curve in the county roads.

Woman III, 1953, by Willem de Kooning

At Bobby Van’s one summer night, (a local retreat where many painters and collectors gathered and way less busy than it is in the present day) I came up on de Kooning at the bar. I was drinking bourbon at that time, and we had one or two together and he was soft spoken and very smart and one could almost feel his intelligence combined with his dry wit. De Kooning’s paintings with their broad strokes and carefully ‘felt’ spaces between forms always spoke to me and still do. To this day, as one might imagine, I am still moved and appreciative that we had that drink and conversation in Bridgehampton that summer night and endlessly humbled to be part of the legacy that de Kooning, Pollock and Guston helped to form.


Gary Komarin
Southampton, New York
August, 2017


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