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Karel Appel
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Artist's Biography - Karel Appel
Karel Appel
( 1936 - 2000 )
The most famous CoBrA artist in the Netherlands. His fame became established in Holland due to the international success he was experiencing in the fifties. He became so famous in his own country that Appel clothing and accessories started appearing on the market.

His work has always been full of life. While poor and having to work with cheap materials during the CoBrA years he created childlike beings with bright and unmixed colors. Jazz was the music he and his friends preferred to listen to and inspired his work on canvas, paper, collages, sculptures in wood and metal, etc...All painted in bright colors.

1921 - Born in Amsterdam, The Netherlands on April 25.

1939 - As a young artist he is influenced by Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass and later by Comte de lautréamont's The Songs of Maldoror and teachings of Krishnamurti.

1942-44 - Studies at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Amsterdam.

1946 - Visits Denmark, where he meets the Danish painters who will later become members of the Cobra group.

1947 - Abundant production of works, which is marked by two determining effects on his style of assemblages: the use of wood in relief, and the turn toward narrative representation.

1948 - On July 16, Appel and a group of Dutch artists form the Dutch Experimental Group in Amsterdam.

The group publishes the periodical Reflex, and some months later merges with the Danish and Belgjan artists to become the International Cobra group. It is founded on November 8, at the Café de I'Hôtel Notre Dame in Paris, by Dotremont and Noiret (Belgium), Jorn (Denmark), and Appel, Constant and Corneille (The Netherlands).

At the same time, Appel creates his objets poubelles (rubbish objects) which are physically related, but spiritually quite different form the junk culture of the sixties, and the plasticized trash yet to be invented by the New Realists. Appel's junk and found objects usually center around a theme which is far more poignant and characteristically expressionistic. For example, in the Questioning Children of 1948-49, the innocence of the children's masks confronts an oppressive and hypocritical society.

1949 - Publication of the periodical Cobra, edited by jorn and the Belgjan poet Christian Dotremont. Jorn also publishes a series of small monographs under the title Bibliotheque de Cobra. Like Dubuffet, Appel and the Cobra artists reject the enlightened and rationalist western past, and momentarily shelve their faith in reason, due to the destruction of civilized values in World War II (thus echoing the Dadaist response after World War II). Also like Dubuffet, Giacometti and Bacon as well, the Cobra group pursues astonishingly diverse formal explorations as a comment upon the human condition rather than the abstract pictorial values which had so oppressively dominated the post-Mondrian, Constructivist era in Europe in the late thirties. The Dutch Cobra painter, Constant, wrote: "We were aware that we had cut ourselves off from the past and enjoyed unfettered freedom. Only primitive people, children, and psychopaths could reckon on our sympathy".

In May, the three Dutch founding artists return to Paris, where the French painter Jaccques Douceet introduces them to the Colette Allendy Gallery. Appel becomes close friends with Dotremont, whom he continues to see until Dotremont's death in 1978. Appel repeats the theme of Questioning Children in the mural for the cafeteria of the Amsterdam City Hall. After public outcry, the city council orders the mural to be whitewashed. Architect Aldo van Eyck publishes 'An Appeal to the Imagination' in defense of Appel's work. For ten years the mural remains hidden under a layer of wallpaper. In 1949 the International Exhibition of Experimental Art, the first Cobra exhibition in Amsterdam is held at the Stedelijk Museum, organized by Willem Sandberg and designed by architect Aldo van Eyck.

The turning point for the Cobra movement takes place in 1950 when Michael Ragon becomes their spokesman. It is as important for Appel's future as is for the whole group. In Paris, Ragon organizes the first exhibition of the Cobra group at the librairie 73 in February 1951, followed by a show at the Galerie Pierre two months later. Appel together with Constant and Corneille leave Holland for good and settle in Paris, where they meet the Danish painter Jorn. Foremost among Appel's friends during his Parisjan period is Hugo Claus, the Flemish poet, novelist and playwright. In 1962, Claus writes an extensive study on Appel's work, published by Harry Abrams Inc., in New Vork. Through Elly and Hugo Claus, Appel meets the avant-garde art critic Michel Tapié who sets up an explosive show at the Nina Dausset Gallery in Paris. In this exhibition Tapié includes Amerjcan artists such as Pollock and De Kooning along with European painters such as Dubuffet, Wols and Hartung. Tapié later introduces Appel to the Martha Jackson Gallery in New York.

Appel participates in the exhibition entitled Significance of the Informal organized by Michel Tapjé.

As compensation for the refused and covered mural in the Amsterdam City Hall, the City council commissions Appel to paint the foyer of the auditorium of the Stedelijk Musuem, Amsterdam, thereafter known as Appel-bar.

1952 - In breaking with his Amsterdam youth, Appel rapidly detaches himself from the Cobra group and becomes part of a group of artists known as Art Informel or Art Autre. Centered around Michel Tapié, the group includes artist such as Henri Michaux, Willem De Kooning, Jean-Paul Riopelle, Jackson Pollock and Sam Francis among others. Appel is the only artist from the Cobra group included. Appel is the first Cobra artist to achieve fame as an individual artist and not as a Cobra artist.

1953 - Martha Jackson visits Appel's studio where she buys several paintings and some gouaches. This marks the beginning of a relationship that continues for more than twenty years.

In the Art Autre period Appel does not spend time with other artists. He shuts himself away in order to work. His friends are more poets than painters. He spends two summers in Albisola on the Italian Riviera, where he learns the techniques of ceramics. He makes a series of sculptures in terra-cotta, based on the human head.

1954 - Michel Tapjé organizes a one-man exhibition at Studio Paul Fazzhetti, Paris. First exhibition is held at the Martha Jackson Gallery, New York.

1955 - Appel meets the architects Van den Broek and Bakeman, who commission him to paint a 100 meter Iong brick wall called Wall of Energy for the exhibition entitled The Vitality of Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

1956 - Commissioned by the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam to make a mural for its new restaurant, Appel uses stained glass for the first time. Uses stained glass for another commission by the architect Bart van Kasteel for the Kruis Church in Geleen, illustration Genesis in six windows. This was the first of an extended series in which Appel plays with the effects of light.

1957 - Takes trips to the United States and Mexico. Meets the painters of the Abstract Expressionist avant-garde and is inspired by the jazz musicians, whose portraits he paints later that year: Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Count Basie and Sarah Vaughan.

1958 - Commissioned by architects Breuer, Zehrfuss and Nevi, Appel paints 'Des oiseaux et des animaux, rencontre avec Ie printemps' which is mounted as a mural in the restaurant of the UNESCO building in Paris.

1959 - Commissioned by the Italian industrialist Paulo Marinotti, Appel makes a mural of cloth for the exhibition Vision and Color, Vitalita nell'Arte at the Palazzo Grassi, Venice.

Through the 60's and 70's, Appel continues his collaboration with Van den Broek and Bakerna and other architects on projects for private and public buildings. Some forty projects are related to architecture for which Appel used different techniques such as painted murals, ceramics and marble tiles, glass-in -concrete-reliefs and stained glass.

1960 - At the age of forty Appel executes a series of sculptures form the roots of olive trees, while spending the summer on the estate of jeaun larcade in Nice, France (Appel's Paris dealer since 1955). These works are much more gestural than his earlier sculptures. His excited paintmarks make the surface of the exposed wood seem even more raw and are enough to transform the trunks into abstract sculpture.

1961 - The Dutch film director, Jan Vrijman, makes a color film on the artist in Paris, 'The Reality of Karel Appel', with music by Dizzy Gillespie and Karel Appel.

1962 - Publication of 'A Beast-Drawn Man', a portfolio with text by Bert Schierbeek and lithographs by Appel.

1963 - Appel divides his time between Rome and Paris. He begins engaging in various experiments, such as introducing real objects in to his paintings. These experiments with assemblage and mixed media pave the way for the lively and colorful sculptures which he will make later.

References to landscape constitute the second notabie theme of his iconography, making folkart central to his imagination. Graphic elements linked to the technique of collage appear in several other works. Appel and Hugo Claus collaborate on a larger than life-scale book entitled 'Love Song' published by Harry N. Abrams, New York. The great kinship between Hugo Claus's literary work and Appel's pictorial oeuvre is apparent in this collaboration.

1964 - Acquires and completely renovates the Cháteau of Mokesnes near Auxerre in France.

1965 - Begins large polychrome reliefs and free-standing figures made from cut out plywood, which he assembles in layers, padding many with expanded polystyrene.

1969 - Between 1969 and 1971, Appel undertakes a series of cut-out assemblages of painted wood an canvas which he call "psychological relief-portraits".

1970 - Records music compositions collaboration with Chet Baker, Merrill Sanders and other musicians and singer in San Francisco.

1971 - Makes his first large-scale sculptures in polychrome aluminum.

1972 - Appel setties again in Paris. Throughout 1972 and 1973 he travels extensively through South America, Mexico, India, Nepal. Indonesia, and Japan.

1974 - Begins regularly employing extra-light materials, such as plastic foam and cubes of polyurethane which he carves, molds and paints, giving it the appearance of wood and the solidity of marble.

1976 - Leaves the Cháteau of Molesmes. Creates murals with the shantytown residents of Villa EI Savador near Liam, Peru. A color film is made of this event. A collaboration with Pierre Alechinsy results in series of works on paper which according to some, appear to be a complete symbiosis. These works are published along with poems by Hugo Claus in the book entitled 'Two Brush Paintings'.

1977 - Leaves his studio in Paris and takes up residence in the South of France. Begins a series of paintings using a flat brush in rectangular strokes, rhythmically arranged across the canvas, depicting landscape, still-lifes, trees and later, figures. In these works Appel finds himself working with a new, more disciplined style of controlled, heavily emphatic and patterned brushstrokes.

1980 - Appel begins his series of window paintings. In these compositions, he produces the most abstract and contemplative paintings to date. At the same time he makes several works using orange crate. These rather discrete and somewhat aesthetic works stem form his thoughts about painting.

1982 - He collaborates with the writer Jose Arquelles and the poet Allen Ginsberg, in creating a series of painting and visual poems, which are later exhibited as part of On the Road: The Jack Kerouac Exhibition at the Boulder Center of the Visual Arts, Colorado.

1983 - Begins a new series of paintings in which color now has a vivid life, freedom, potency of its own, establishing a new theater of action: generates form and subject matter and is liberated from drawing.

1985 - Begins the Nude Series on paper depicting predominantly reclining nudes on a grand scale.

1987 - After many years of exploring the nude in painting and drawings, Appel works with live models, instead of deriving his forms entirely form his imagination.

The Paris Opera commissions Appel to conceive and design a ballet. 'Can We Dance A Landscape?' is performed in collaboration with the Japanese dancer and choreographer Min Tanaka and the Vietnamese composer Dao.

1988 - Appel travels through China.

1989 - 'Can We Dance A Landscape?' is performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Next Wave Festival, New York. Collaboration with the children of Hiroshima to make a mural for their city.

1990 - Collaborates with Min Tanaka at the Summer Art Festival in Hakushu, Japan.

1991 - Creates Poetry-Painting Series with Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso. Appel's third period of sculpture production begins in the early nineties. They are a statement of his ideas and imagery, each a kind of "Gesamtkunstwerk", that is, architecture, painting and sculpture combined. They are constructivist as weil as expressionist and reveal a classical sense of dignity in their proportions.

1994 - Commissioned by De Nederlandse Opera, Appel creates the scenic concept for the opera Noach by the young Dutch Guus Janssen, and the librettist Friso Haverkamp. He again asks Min Tanaka to collaborate.

'Can We Dance A Landscape?' is performed at Het Muziek Theater, Amsterdam.

Again takes up the theme of the nude in his paintings. These nude paintings are different from those of the eighties in that they concern the moving figure, the use of strong color in quick-tempered vigorous strokes, and a condensed scale.

1995 - Paints a series of landscapes from nature in Tuscany.

Commissioned by De Nederlandske Opera, Appel creates the scenic concept for Mozart's The Magic Flute in collaboration with Min Tanaka.

A documentary film is made of the artist, directed by Mat van Hensbergen.

1997 - Divides his time between Toscany, where he paints large scale landscapes and the United States, where he continues to make sculptures.
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