“A painting is not a structure of colours and lines, but an animal, a night, a cry, a man, or all of these together” -Constant Nieuwenhuys

I grew up enthralled by this wild, intense print affixed to a wall in my childhood home. A large bird atop what appeared to be an alligator. One of my dad’s favorite paintings, I only realized this past year the artist’s name was Karel Appel, a Dutch artist, and member of the avant-garde group CoBrA. The letters of the word representing the founders’ cities: Copenhagen, Brussels, and Amsterdam.

Unfortunately, my father is not alive anymore, and I never asked him how he became aware of Appel’s work. This was the pre-Internet age, and Appel’s paintings were displayed in only a select few galleries, was it a gift… did he happen to walk past the gallery one day? Sadly, I never cared about the answers to these questions when he was alive, though the picture has traveled with me everywhere, lugged from Westcoast to East, and then much further East.
I suppose I romanticized my father’s involvement in the procurement of the print, searching for some meaningful narrative, and connection between him, the past and me.

The more research I did on the artists of the CoBrA movement, the more the boldness of their work resonated with me. During the late 1940’s and 50’s their creations were scoffed at by critics; called childish and crude, but I like that they created work that was meaningful to them, and didn’t attempt to remain within an accepted genre.

CoBrA was formed by Karel Appel, Constant Nieuwenhuys, Corneille, Christian Dotremont, Asger Jorn, and Joseph Noiret on 8 November 1948 in the Café Notre-Dame, Paris, with the signing of a manifesto, “La cause était entendue” (“The Case Was Settled”)

The Netherlands, while occupied in WWII, disconnected artists from the art world outside its borders. This frustrated containment and isolation led to the founding of the avant-garde movement, notoriously experimental, and  influenced by Modernism and Marxism. Their shared goal was to be different from existing art movements such as naturalism and what they viewed as cold, dispassionate abstraction.
To these artists, experimentation meant complete freedom epitomized in child like attitude and presence.

The Lionel Gallery contains a few of Appel’s works on display.

The Borzo Gallery displays New Babylon by Constant

Jaski Art Gallery specialized and displays the works of CoBrA artists

Cobra Museum of Modern Art

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Coffee. Beer. Climbing Tall Things.

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