De Kooning was a fixture of New York’s tight-knit Abstract Expressionist cohort, which included her husband Willem de Kooning, though she set herself apart by making portraits. Her compositions were edged with the movement’s high-octane gestures, as well as her own frustration with the marginalization of female artists. Her “Faceless Men” series, for instance, obscured the features of her more famous male contemporaries, like post-war poet and art critic Frank O’Hara. They were unveiled at her first solo exhibition at the Stable Gallery in 1952.
A sense of quivering energy pervades all facets of de Kooning’s diverse body of work, which also includes ebullient abstractions inspired by landscapes, bullfights, and the Lascaux cave paintings. “I wanted a sense of surfaces being in motion,” she explained of her canvases. A frequent contributor to ARTNews, she was also a passionate and eloquent exponent of the AbEx cause, expressing the movement’s animus succinctly, with phrases like: “A painting to me is primarily a verb, not a noun, an event first and only secondarily an image.”