Elaine de Kooning (née Elaine Marie Catherine Fried) died on this day, February 1, 1989, in Southampton, Long Island, aged 70. A renowned American painter (both a gifted figurative painter and a committed Abstract Expressionist), she was also a lucid and sharp critic and teacher (Rose Slivka’s The Spirit of Abstract Expressionism – Selected Writings (1994), gathering together twenty-nine critical essays, most published in ArtNews between 1949 and 1989, and previously unpublished selections from journals and letters, is well-worth hunting down, testament to an acute intelligence).
She was also renowned as a portraitist and this was the focus of her major 2015 exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. John F Kennedy Frank O’Hara, Merce Cunningham, Fairfield Porter, Allen, were just some of the figures who sat for her
The Ginsberg portrait was, of course, featured.
Bob Rosenthal, sometime owner of it, writes:
“Why does Elaine de Kooning shut Allen’s eyes? I am certain that Allen does not shut his eyes while sitting in Elaine’s studio. Allen cares about the promotion of meditation practice. Allen’s eyes are always open. Allen is disappointed that Elaine shuts his eyes, which is diametrically not his practice. The painting became less useful to him. He does not hang the portrait in his apartment instead it hangs in the Union Square office a long time. It is a sea of calm that truly counterbalances the energy and perpetual tension in the office. Countless times, when I need to calm down, I look to the painting. Perhaps Elaine has to turn off Allen’s x-ray vision to create a truly idyllic isle of Allen Ginsberg – eyes shut – at peace.”
See here for footage of Elaine at work, painting a portrait (from a 1976 color film, directed and produced by Betty Jean Thiebaud.
& here’s Rudy Burckhardt’s photo of the wonderful Elaine: