Karel Appel

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Karel Appel, 1982
Questioning Children - gouache on three dimensional wooden construction, 1949
sculpture on Spui square in The Hague - The Netherlands, c. 2008

Karel Appel (April 25, 1921May 3, 2006) was a Dutch painter and sculptor. He was one of the founders of the avant-garde movement COBRA in 1948.

Quotes of Karel Appel[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, Painter 1962[edit]

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

  • 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.
    • p. 77
  • It’s painting like this – you are in front of your canvas, your hands holds the painting, 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 hand 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.
    • p. 98

Karel Appel – the complete sculptures, 1990[edit]

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.
    • 'The eye of the beholder', Carlo McCormick in
  • 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.
    • 'The eye of the beholder', Carlo McCormick in
  • 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.
    • 'The eye of the beholder', Carlo McCormick in
  • 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.
    • p. 71 'The eye of the beholder', Carlo McCormick in
  • The wastelands belong to my youth. 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.
    • p. 75 -77 'Quotes', K. Appel (1989) - his quote is referring to his youth in Amsterdam city: in the outskirts and the ports
  • 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.
    • p. 75 -77 'Quotes', K. Appel (1989) - his 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) - artist statement on the role of 'objet trouvé' in his art
  • 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 façade 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)
    • 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)
    • quote is referring to his art-work '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)

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