Willem de Kooning – (Spatial Planes and Time)

Willem de Kooning - The Glazier - 1940 - 137 x 112 cm - 54 x 44 in - oil on canv

In this painting Willem de Kooning conveys his superb understanding of spatial planes.  The sophistication of his considerations is very impressive, providing a sense of space without the appearance of freezing the subject matter, as we would see with traditional perspective.  If he had used representational detail and modelling, the image would appear frozen in time, in the same way a photo captures the moment. This would be fine if that was the intent, and fortunately de Kooning and many other artists wanted to delve further, and explore the possibilities of planes and time in painting.


Let’s begin with the five vertically arranged planes at the right which include the mirror behind the vase  Their positions are intentionally ambiguous in space, inviting the viewer to determine where they should be.  Note how the plane in the table cloth connects to the upper three and how the bottom right of the painting is a plane as well. We sense flatness and depth simultaneously. We feel time because it is not clear where they are in the space because de Kooning intentionally leaves that for us to determine.

I am very impressed with how de Kooning integrated the figure with the plane (the mirror) with the brown triangle, (which is another plane).  How he integrated the triangle with the figure is masterful.  The top edge connects to the left shoulder and the bottom carries across the figure to another brown triangle.  This is truly sophisticated.

The ambiguity and sense of planes at the left of the figure, from the ear down providing a feeling of movement is magnificent.  His knowledge of the considerations in early twentieth century art is very apparent, and I feel he is truly mastering time and planes in this wonderful painting, especially between the figures legs.  Ask yourself why he painted this the same colour as the pants and then you will sense a plane, emphasized by that wonderful vertical black line.  Also, there is a wonderful curve at the top of the right leg giving us another sense of a plane.

One more beautiful consideration before I leave you to engage further with this wonderful painting. There is a subtle triangular plane overlapping the brown triangle pointing towards the face. Do you feel the plane it provides? Fantastic.

de Kooning – (Integration with Line and Indicating Time)

Willem de Kooning - Two Men Standing - 1938 -155 x 122 cm - 61 x 48 in - oil on canvas

De Kooning’s use of line for emphasizing the structure of the composition is very impressive. The horizontal line at the right edge of the painting, near the figure’s shoulder superbly balances the composition. Without that line we would have difficulty moving away from the dominant figure.  It provides not only a pull, it also completes a wonderful horizontal integrating division of the composition.

Another beauty is the line under the shoe which not only supports the figure it is also provides rhythmic support for the line above at knee level.  There is another which shows us how sensitive and the thoroughness of de Kooning’s considerations.  It’s the faint line in the orange area, connecting the men at their elbows.

De kooning was also working at conveying time in this painting as we see in the right arms of both figures.  We see two positions of the arm in the dominant figure and at the hand of the other man.  And I think this explains the dark rectangle in front of the indistinguishable hands of the dominant figure.  There are basically two methods for conveying time.  One by inviting the viewer to move (not physically, but in their mind) and the other is to indicate the movement of the subject which de Kooning used here.  Both are very challenging.

I also would like to mention how the shoes are actually a pull, bringing us to the bottom.  And a fantastic pause.  The light mark at the left end of the line at knee level.  It’s influence on  the composition is superb!

I think his choice of not completing the legs of the man at the right is interesting and leaves us with an open consideration for discussion.


Willem de Kooning – (Integration with Spatial Planes)

Willem de Kooning - Two Men Standing - 1938 - 155 x 122 cm - 61 x 48 in - oil on canvas

There are some fascinating spatial considerations in this interesting painting by de Kooning.  Not only has he integrated the painting with a motif of rectangles, de Kooning also uses them as spatial planes, providing us with the feeling of space. (which is meant to be felt before seen)

I will begin with the vertical rectangle at the left which has a feeling of being in front of the objects on the floor.  And when you take in the adjacent rectangles they seem to be behind the figure.  I hope you can feel it.

Now to the wonderful warm rectangle connecting the figures. (Or maybe I should say the orange has a feeling of a rectangle)  Do you sense the orange being both in front and behind the figures?  The feeling is emphasized  by the horizontal line which runs behind the left figure’s legs, then turning upwards, connecting to another line at the other figures elbow.  Yes we have another plane.  One more, which I feel is the most exquisite.  The sense of the left figure’s head being within a spatial plane.  Do you feel the rectangle simultaneously in front and behind his head?

This is a very sophisticated painting and I will continue in the next posting.