New York

Willem De Kooning

Allan Stone Gallery

This month the Allan Stone Gallery shows a group of recent de Koonings, mostly drawings, together with a few medium-sized oils. All deal with women in the mocking and provocative guise combining sexuality and aggressiveness into possession that Euripides treated of in The Bacchae. Most of the drawings are in charcoal or black chalk and show a return to linear concerns that reflect the general firming up of forms detectable in de Kooning’s work since 1962. Big swipes with the side of the chalk still give the expressive blurring that contributed so much brio to the earlier Women of nearly fifteen years ago, but now the re-emergent line gives pungency and bite to the essential painterliness of his vision.

A series of large heads in charcoal with smudges of pastel about the mouths show a revived interest in fugitive but highly specific expressions. This explicitness of gesture, even confined as it is to facial features, holds promise for more examples of its counterpart in paintings like the raw knockout included in the last Whitney Annual. The star among the drawings is an immense charcoal Study for Woman in a Rowboat. Here the delirium and frenzy of the figure find strong reverberations in the nautical setting, rocking and shattered by the spasmodic noodling and dash of the artist’s stroke. This startling virtuoso piece doesn’t contain a single square centimeter in which to rest even for an instant; the large scale and restless passion of the image make it exceptional even in the graphic work of an artist long appreciated as a master of vehement eloquence.

The oils in the show are modest but by no means trifling. The finest is a half length figure in oil on paper whose terrified smeared visage has been torn from another sheet and pasted on above her wide swinging breasts. Another oil on paper, this time a headless torso, suffers a bit from the bleeding through of the N.Y. Times newsprint over which she has been theatrically brushed. A faultless example of the “maniera,” she isn’t quite enough in focus to be truly moving. Another curious oil employs a kind of decalcomania technique; her wiped-in head and legs are separated by a torso which has had a sheet of something pulled off the wet pigment, leaving countless shaggy peaks of paint.

Despite their character as studies, each of these oils shows the concentration of vision which can make de Kooning’s loosest, most wildly flailing strokes precisely articulate. His apparently intensified interest in drawing must be responsible for his recovery from the fifteen or so mushy and diffuse Women studies shown elsewhere several years ago. Now again his work has the drastic, even reckless intensity that is the, heart of his inimitable accomplishment.

Dennis Adrian