Karel Appel

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Karel Appel, photo in 1982 quote of Karel Appel, c. 1953: 'My paint is like a rocket, which describes its own space. I try to make the impossible possible. What is happening I cannot foresee, it is a surprise'

Karel Appel (April 25, 1921May 3, 2006) was a Dutch painter and sculptor. He was one of the early founders of the European avantgarde movement COBRA in 1948. Later he lived and worked in Paris and in the U.S. His painting art is mainly colorful.

Quotes of Karel Appel[edit]

chronologically arranged, after the date of Karel Appel's' quotes
Karel Appel, 1949: 'Questioning Children' - gouache on three dimensional wooden construction, 1949
Karel Appel, 1950: 'The Elephant', original in cast in 1950 (the later version in painted bronze in this photo is made in 1989)
Karel Appel, 1951: 'Het Oerbeest / The Primeval, oil-painting; location unknown
Karel Appel, 1955: Karel Appel is making a painting on the wall of an exposition-building in Rotterdam - photo, 19 April 1955 by Joop van Bilsen / Anefo - National Dutch Archive
Karel Appel, 1955: Karel Appel is painting on the wall of an exposition-building in Rotterdam - photo, 19 April 1955 by Joop van Bilsen / Anefo - National Dutch Archive
Karel Appel, c. 1960-63: 'Tête de soleil / Sun-head', oil-painting on canvas; location unknown
photo of Karel Appel, June 1965: in front of his recent painting then, 'Deux Figures'; location: Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
Karel Appel, 1969: 'No title', a ceramic wall-decoration; location at Campus Woudestein, Rotterdam; photo by Timelezz
Karel Apppel, 1979: Appel at the left, with cap & Rudolf Bikkers (right), in the studio's of Editions Canada, London, Ontario, Canada, photo by BabyBikk
Karel Appel, undated: bronze sculpture, in front of 'Cobra museum' in Amstelveen, The Netherlands, photo by Oxyman.
Karel Appel, c. 1984: silkscreen by E.A. (epreuve d'artist), Collection Gelderland; licensed by Coda museum
Karel Appel, 1986: 'The Discovery', oil-painting on canvas; current location: Arizona State University Art Museum - quote of Karel Appel, 1990: 'Every day I have to be awake to escape.. .The whole world is sleepy. It is a real fight to be awake, to see everything new, for the first time in your life.'
Karel Appel, 1993: 'Frog with Umbrella', original sculpture in wood: 1993; the later and bigger version on this photo is in painted bronze; location: Spui square in The Hague - The Netherlands, c. 2008

Quotes, 1950's[edit]

  • I don't paint, I hit.
    • quote circa 1958; from the movie 'De werkelijkheid van Karel Appel', Jan Vrijman; as quoted in De Tweede Helft, Ad de Visser, SUN Nijmegen, 1998

'Karel Appel, excerpt', c. 1953[edit]

Quotes from: 'Karel Appel, excerpt', c. 1953, in Karel Appel, Painter, eds. Hugo Claus, Harry N. Abrams - New York, 1962; as quoted in Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art, eds. Kristine Stiles & Peter Selz, University of California Press, 1996, p. 209
  • My paint is like a rocket, which describes its own space. I try to make the impossible possible. What is happening I cannot foresee, it is a surprise. Painting, like passion, is an emotion full of truth and rings a living sound, like the roar coming from the lion's breast.
  • To paint is to destroy what preceded. I never try to make a painting, but a chunk of life. It is a scream; it is a night; it is like a child; it is a tiger behind bars.
  • It's like this - you are in front of your canvas, you hand holds the paint, ready, raised. The canvas waits, waits, empty and white - but all the time it knows what it wants. So - what does it want, anyway? My hand comes near, my eyes begin to transform the waiting canvas; and when - with my hands holding the paint and my eyes seeing the forms - I touch the canvas, it trembles, it comes to life.
  • The struggle begins, to harmonize canvas, eye, hand, forms. New apparitions stalk the earth.

Quotes, 1960's & 1970's[edit]

  • I paint like a barbarian in this barbarous time.
  • in Dutch: Ik schilder als een barbaar in deze barbaarse tijd.
    • quote, c. 1960; from the documentary De werkelijkheid van Karel Appel, by Dutch filmer Jan Vrijman, 1962

'Karel Appel, a gesture of colour' (2009)[edit]

Quotes from: Karel Appel, a gesture of colour, eds. By Jean-François Lyotard, Christine Buci-Glucksmann, Herman Parret, Leuven University Press, 2009
  • At the very moment when my ego is unprooted [uprooted?] and freed of intellectual activities and values, the realization of what is still unknown and uncreated, the silent 'non-form' unity emerges, appearing as childish schizophrenia. The indefinable beginning takes form [quote, 1969]
    • ('CF', p. 32); p. 45
  • Something appears midway between order and chaos, these forms, these expressions occupy a middle position. [writing in 1973]
    • ('CF', p. 35); p. 67

Quotes, 1980's[edit]

  • Now we'll start the song of the wild man who lives on the mountain top, who does not want to be seen
  • let us now start that song without words, without music, come on..
  • (let's not do anything for at least ten minutes)
  • That's the spirit, there he comes, the song of the inner voice, the song of the primitive man
    • a poem of Karel Appel, 1981; from Karel Appel. The Colourful Stranger. Poems and Drawings (Karel Appel. De kleurige onbekende. Gedichten en tekeningen), Amsterdam, 1986

'Karel Appel – the complete sculptures,' (1990)[edit]

Quotes from: Karel Appel – the complete sculptures, eds. Harry de Visser / Roland Hagenberg, Edition Lafayette, New York 1990
  • The wastelands belong to my youth [1930's]. When I was young I played in the outskirts of the city - watching the cranes at the harbour. There was no law but garbage, grass and wildflowers like boys and girls, rough, hot and sexual and full of hidden pleasures. Life and death are overlapping in the wastelands like in my paintings.
    • pp. 75-77 'Quotes', K. Appel (1989)
    • Appel's quote is referring to his youth in Amsterdam, in the outskirts and the ports of the Dutch city
  • You can see the roughness of structure and the spots like wounds from battles on the canvas. The tops of skyscrapers with windows like eyes constantly remind you that there are laws surrounding the wastelands, and so you hide in the deep grass when you make love to a girl in dirty clothes, and experience how your nerves of seeing become stronger and stronger and every little sound more and more intense. That's what Pasolini's poetry is partly about; he was a street guy and therefore I avoided beautiful new wood or metal for his sculpture.. .The wasteland was Pasolini's other side; the boys, the knives, the nights, the tensions.
    • pp. 75-77 'Quotes', K. Appel (1989)
    • this quote is referring to the Italian movie-maker Pasolini
  • One of my first sculptures was made of bicycle parts. I was living at that time in a attic in the red light section of Amsterdam. I started to work without any specific materials. I was looking in the street like when I was a young boy, in the garbage cans, for ropes, wires, and paint. I left my parents in 1940. Years later I saw an exhibition of Kurt Schwitters at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam curated by Willem Sandberg and there I saw the real 'objet trouvé'; until then I had never heard about it. Schwitters was a shattering experience.
    • p. 79 'Quotes', K. Appel (1989)
  • I'm not a pessimist. Maybe I don't have a primitive feeling of happiness, that is true. Sometimes my color is happy but not the expression.
    • p. 85 'Quotes', K. Appel (1989)
  • Our civilization is in a continuous state of self-repair. Maybe you have undergone surgery once. In former times you might have died. Today everybody can live on and on; everything around us is repaired, even the spirit. Look at the young artists. They only paint the facade and not the things hidden behind it. I don't say that life is lost its originality. I show straightforwardly the state of repair of civilization.
    • p. 85 'Quotes', K. Appel (1989)
    • this quote is referring to his sculpture 'State of liberty'
  • As an artist you have to fight and survive the wilderness to keep your creative freedom. Creativity is very fragile. It's like a leaf in the fall; it hangs and when it drops you don't know where it's drifting.
    • p. 91 'Quotes', K. Appel (1989)
  • When I was young I once found a book in a Dutch translation, The 'Leaves of Grass'. It was the first time a book touched me by its feeling of freedom and open spaces, the way the poet spoke of the ocean by describing a drop of water in his hand. Walt Whitman was offering the world an open hand (now we call it democracy) and my 'Monument for Walt Whitman' became this open hand with mirrors, so you can see inside yourself.
    • p. 93 'Quotes', K. Appel (1989)
    • Appel's quote is referring to his sculpture 'Monument for Walt Whitman', dedicated to the American poet
  • As I said, in the Fifties I had the 'angst' (= Dutch for 'fear') to survive materialistically. In the city Paris it was a battle. I painted with a knife and called the results 'human landscapes', abstract landscapes with human faces here and there. Today I can do without fight or struggle; every brushstroke now is ready, goes by itself: la peinture depouillé you could say. I discovered that in Picasso's late paintings. You look very closely but there is nothing anymore. He painted here and there a little bit; it is not finished, but once you step back you see a fantastic image, life by itself. I'm not fighting anymore; I'm floating, surfing on the wind.
    • p. 95 'Quotes', K. Appel (1989)

'Karel Appel, a gesture of colour' (2009)[edit]

Quotes from: Karel Appel, a gesture of colour, eds. by Jean-François Lyotard, Christine Buci-Glucksmann, Herman Parret, Leuven University Press, 2009
  • A war is raging within me that burns everything. So I can begin again. [written quote, 1982]
    • ('CF', p. 48); p. 83
  • Theories / are things.. ..Absence and nonexistence / of theories are things. [note, 1983]
    • ('CF', p. 63), p. 55
  • The true artist has no style. Style is an exterior decorative element. The true artist as servant of his matter, transcends it with an absolute freedom. [quote, 1984]
    • ('ATV', pp. 188-189); p. 49
  • If the stroke of the brush is so important, it is because it expresses precisely what is not there. [quote, 1985]
    • ('CF, p. 44); as quoted in Karel Appel, a gesture of colour, eds. by Jean-François Lyotard, Christine Buci-Glucksmann, Herman Parret, Leuven University Press, 2009, p. 69
  • a sky of clouds completely 'out of the blue'.. .I'm looking, reflecting, and when it suddenly happens: hey, the clouds, and what clouds! [in interview with nl:Ischa Meyer, c. 1988]
    • ('RM'), 157; p. 41

Quotes, 1990's & undated[edit]

  • I'm able to paint so nice and thick with those big splodges that stay upright because I mix my own paint. I use the formula that the seventeenth-century painters used and I've added one or two things myself. A very important element is stand oil. I once got hold of a whole barrel full and I'm still using it. There are pots of it in all my studios, in New York, in Connecticut, in Monaco, and in Tuscany. [the oil had been found when an old paint shop closed down, in a] stock that had been there since the seventeenth century.. .I mix my oil paint with it, and I throw in a lot of eggs and some concentrated turpentine. It's as thick as homemade mayonnaise. When it dries it is as tough and hard as rubber.
  • I have painted like an ape. The ape phase is in all my work. My first lick of paint is the ape phase, from that I grow towards a more intellectual phase, involving the lines, the rhythm. From that phase I grow towards mankind, for that is where the power of my imagination lies. It no longer has anything to do with reality, even though the world is present in it - for we recognize people, animals, plants, you name it.
  • ..at least fifty [gouaches painted in complete dark], one after another. Then I made a light, a candle, and I picked them up and turned them around, as I couldn't see a top or a bottom. I finished them off as I felt fit, a bit more white or a red spot.
  • When you get older as a painter and you've got the opportunities, the talent and the good fortune and have been provided with everything for getting old, then it's fantastic, because the same brushstroke that you put down is more mature and more poignant than it was when you were young.
  • Willem de Kooning, they say, lost his memory. He lost his worldly memory. He lost the names of the people, he lost their faces.. .This is one of the reasons he paints as a real painter.
  • ..And his painting is like the wind, like a breeze blowing the paint across the canvas, so unreal, so loose and far away from the worldly life.
  • He is like an angel who floats for a little while on this planet and touches with his wings the canvas.
  • That is what he used to do, what he is doing now for the last hears. He is the only painter who paints like that.. ..like the wind, like the ocean, like the light, like the sunlight, like the moonlight, far away from everything, without any image..
  • The Cobra group started new, and first of all we threw away all these things we had known and started afresh, like a child — fresh and new. Sometimes my works look very childish, or childlike, schizophrenic or stupid, you know. But that was the good thing for me. Because, for me, the material is the paint itself. The paint expresses itself. In the mass of paint, I find my imagination and go on to paint it.
    • Quoted in: 'Karel Appel, Dutch Expressionist Painter, Dies at 85', by Margalit Fox, in 'Art & Design', New York Times May 9, 2006
    • Quote of an oral history in 'Contemporary Artists' - Karel Appel describes the wild artistic urgency that gave rise to the Cobra artist-group

from 'Karel Appel – the complete sculptures,' (1990)[edit]

Quotes from: Karel Appel – the complete sculptures, eds. Harry de Visser / Roland Hagenberg, Edition Lafayette, New York 1990
  • The duty of the artist is not to be calculating in any sense, so that he may be free himself of human emotions while carried by the universal forces of life. Only then does one not think about making art, or about styles, or directions. Something comes about, something happens.
  • Through play, we renew contact with childhood - My art is childlike.
  • [artists are people] who employ matter between birth and death. Matter is something to use, not possess.
  • Knowledge isolates phenomena and things to observe with.. ..nothing is isolatable or can be removed from its environment. Anything which becomes isolated ceases to exist. It is like the violent refusal of someone to play a game in which everyone cheats.
  • The experience of the moment is what's important, and somehow the image, the 'thing' is left over.
  • My brush-strokes start in nothing and they end in nothing, and in-between you find the image.
  • Every day I have to be awake to escape.. .The whole world is sleepy. It is a real fight to be awake, to see everything new, for the first time in your life.
  • There exists an insanity that touches on a higher level, by knowledge or instinct. That insanity of life I try to put in my painting. It has nothing to do with any morals or laws. It is there and it is insane.
  • All the absurdity and hope are the stimulants to create. You make art to find a little hole to go on. You go through the whole to find the world again, and the absurdity is that still, somehow it is the same.. .Hopelessness and hope are the same. It’s a very thin line you don’t see any more. I don’t believe in that line between hopelessness and hope today.

Quotes about Karel Appel[edit]

chronologically arranged, after the date of the quotes about Karel Appel
  • Occasion is a good word: it speaks of an 'offered case'. The painter also lives on such plundering. Karel Appel is touched by a circumstance, and make paintings out of his feeling. Appel's work touches in turn those that encounter it, and they leap at the occasion to reflect on it. Art and thinking live on these, jostling.
    • Quote of Jean-Francois Lyotard (1990), in Karel Appel, a gesture of colour, eds. by Jean-François Lyotard, Christine Buci-Glucksmann, Herman Parret, Leuven University Press, 2009, p. 27
  • ..Appel does not hesitate to expose his colour to rubbish. More than any other this work returns 'aesthetic discourse to its precariousness: how could it articulate coloured things that so clearly result from a 'gesture' and are free from any finality. It is not the gesture of the painter, it is the gesture of painting, or painting as gesture that Appel opposes to thought.
    • Quote of Jean-Francois Lyotard (1990), in Karel Appel, a gesture of colour, eds. by Jean-François Lyotard, Christine Buci-Glucksmann, Herman Parret, Leuven University Press, 2009, p. 27
  • The painter is the first dancer of his work. Appel understands the appeal to disturb the finished work as he is in the process of making it. He drops his canvas, his paper, puts down his brush – that is to say, he resigns himself to the deposition of the gesture, as one gives in to fatigue by taking a break. He will soon begin performing again..
    • Quote of Jean-Francois Lyotard (1990), in Karel Appel, a gesture of colour, eds. by Jean-François Lyotard, Christine Buci-Glucksmann, Herman Parret, Leuven University Press, 2009, p. 47
  • The body trained to deal with worries and with itself falls apart. A contradictory body rises from it, a will to see shows itself what can only be seen at night. Who sees then? Through the sacrificed body Black sees itself red, it listens to its vibrating tones, which the day never hears. The magnetic hand and shoulder hastily throws illuminations on the canvas. At this instant of gesture, the unknown storms, and the body breaks apart.
    • Quote of Jean-Francois Lyotard (1990), in Karel Appel, a gesture of colour, eds. by Jean-François Lyotard, Christine Buci-Glucksmann, Herman Parret, Leuven University Press, 2009, p. 221
    • The philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard tried to describe Appel's 'method' of creating
  • But Appel is more an assembler than a sculptor. Although now and then he carves wood or models plaster his works are mainly assemblages. He recycles objets trouvés which appeal to him in some way or which invite reuse. An increasingly wide range of industrial leftovers is incorporated in the assemblages from the early Nineties.
  • It is painting and sculpture [of Karel Appel] at its best. It is close to the heart, animalistic, idealistic, and thoroughly experimental.
    • quote by Klaus Ottmann, 2016; in exhibition-catalog 'Karel Appel: A Gesture of Color - Paintings and Sculptures, 1947–2004', Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. - ISBN 978-3-944874-48-7 p. 6

External links[edit]

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