Karel Appel is one of the founding members of the CoBrA movement, but after that short period of collaboration with other artists he followedhis own path, experimenting with his art all his life.
To present this rich and diverse body of work, the Museum of Modern Art of Paris has defined 5 themes or eras.
–The CoBrA period (1948-1951) – Largely drawing their inspiration from children’s drawings and primitive art, CoBrA artists promoted an art based on spontaneity and experiment,
–Post CoBrA/Expressive vehemence (1952-1957) – After the dissolution of the CoBrA group , Appel worked solo from Paris. There he caught the attention of a French art critic and art theoretician who was fascinated by the expressive vehemence of his painting and who introduced him to French and European art circles. He also introduced him to the New York gallery owner Marcha Jacson, an accounter that subsequently lead to many stays in that city.
–The Sixties and Seventies – In the early sixties, Appel was still using a gestural approach, but by the late sixties and during the following decade he abandoned his gestural style for new experimentations. His hand became less expressive, leading to painted reliefs with sharper contours and a more colorful reinterpretation of his vocabulary.
–The circus – In 1978, Appel created an amazing set of seventeen sculptures on the theme of the circus putting on display fantastic animals, clowns and musicians.
–The eighties, nineties and two Thousands – Appel underwent a pictorial renewal in the early eighties in the way of a stronger narrative gestural manner that some link to neo-expressionism. At the end of the decade, he adopted again a new style that announced his final work. He put aside his characteristically vivid colors and painted stripped-down compositions in black and white. He experimented with the human figure and its relationship to space, whose emptiness evokes the anxiety of man in the universe. In the nineties and two thousands, Appel produced monumental installations inspired by the worlds of theatre and the carnival. In contrast with these baroque sculptural effusions, his painting from this period is reduced to stark representations on the human body.
I experienced the exhibition as an explosion of spontaneity and energy, showing the work of an artist free of conventions and with an incredible gestual power of expression. His use of colours is also amazing and re-inforces the vitality of this work.
Some have been disappointment at the limited number of art works on display that was lower than that of other exhibitions organized at the Museum. While I tend to agree with this opinion, I have to add that the intensity of the works presented was such that it stayed with me long after I had left the building. This to me is a sign of the genius of the artist and of the sucess of that particular exhibition.