IN CONTEXT The 8th of November 1948 marks a central point within the Western art movement. At Café Notre Dame in Paris a group of young artists and intellectuals formed the beginning of a renewal of the European art scene. The COBRA group was short-lived but influenced many coming generations of artists. Through art, the group sought to spark the rebirth of the human spirit and a primitive sense of vitality and creative energy. Their stance was shaped by the aftermath of the war and what they saw as the stagnation of art. The group tried to break away from the present emphasis on form and intellect, and instead encourage a spontaneous way of painting. They drew inspiration from the naive drawings made by children and the art of primitive cultures as well as contemporary art movements such as Art brut and artists like Jean Dubuffet, Paul Klee and Joan Miró. The core value that they sought was the sense of innocence and naivety, as a form of aesthetic uncorrupted by the Western tradition. By this they sought to find an expression of hope and optimism in contrast to the continents dark past.
Karel Appel was to become the embodiment of these ideas. His paintings exude imagination and spontaneity, expressed by free, often wild brushstrokes and a use of thick layers of a vibrant array of colour. Appel saw the process of painting as more important than the finished work itself, and became known for having a spontaneous and intuitive approach to his motifs. In his early years he was highly influenced by the cubist works of Pablo Picasso. Together with his friend and artist Corneille, Appel travelled to Liège in the mid 1940s and came across the works of Jean Dubuffet, which were influenced by children and mentally ill. Appel was the co-founder of Experimentele Groep together with artists Anton Rooskens, Theo Wolvecamp, Jan Nieuwenhuijs and Eugène Brands. These artists later came in contact with artists who represented the same ideas in Denmark and Belgium, eventually forming the COBRA group.
In 1957, Karel Appel moved to New York and continued his search for new inspiration. The jazz musicians played an important role in his painting as he found similar characteristics within the COBRA movement. From now on, he applied thick layers of paint, sometimes directly from the tube and modelled it with his hands. “Composition with face” is a colourful work embracing Appel’s free spirit. In many ways, this work highlights the inner core of the COBRA movement with its bright colours and swirling paint. The face is placed in the centre of the composition, built up by a number of different colours and accentuated by the captivating red background.
Dutch painter, sculptor, and poet Karel Appel was born in Amsterdam. His father was a barber and Karel was to follow in these footsteps. He chose art school instead (Rijksacademie voor Beeldende Kunsten). After the Second World War he travelled to Liege and Paris. In November 1948, COBRA was born: an international movement of artists who worked experimentally that evolved from the criticisms of Western society and a common desire to break away from existing art movements. Experimentation was the symbol of an unfettered freedom. Appel was one of its founding members.
He drew inspiration from primitive art, children’s drawings, and outsider art, which he called unspoiled and pure. Appel painted spontaneously and created his compositions as he worked. He used to say: 'I just mess around'.
Appel painted and made collages and sculptures using simple forms and vivid colours. In 1953, he made his name internationally at the São Paolo Biënnale. This led to exhibitions around the world. By 1990, he had studios in New York, Connecticut, Monaco, and Tuscany.
His work is to be found in all major modern museum collections in the world.