Appel is a poet whose spontaneity is such that, from hand to canvas, it doesn’t have the time to lose its aggressive force or its power to shock. – Christian Dotremont
Animals Coming from the Sun (1957) is a small miracle on the art market, a unique opportunity for any seasoned collector of Dutch painter Karel Appel’s unclassifiable work.
Karel Appel was born in Amsterdam, in 1921, where he studied at the Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten (State Academy of Fine Arts) from 1942 to 1944. In July 1948, with Constant Anton Nieuwenhuys (aka Constant) and Corneille (Guillaume Cornelis Beverloo), he co-founded the Dutch experimental art group Reflex in Amsterdam. In November of that year, he co-founded the Internationale des Artistes Expérimentaux, or CoBra, a group that broke up soon afterward. In 1950, Appel settled in Paris. There, he met the art critic Michel Tapié, who took him under his wing and organized an exhibition for him at Studio Paul Facchetti in 1954. That year, his work was the subject of a first exhibition on Americansoil, presented by Martha Jackson in New York. It was not until 1957, however, that Appel himself travelled to the United States and Mexico, to which he would make more many trips. New York became the centre of his art career during this period. He regularly frequented the Abstract Expressionists—most notably Sam Francis, Franz Kline, and Willem de Kooning—as well as the jazz scene, through which he met Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, and Sarah Vaughan. About this period, Florian Steininger notes, “Appel experiences clear similarities in the momentum of improvisation between jazz music and contemporary abstract expressionist painting. Out of this effect and the momentary situation arise both images and music. This reflects clearly in Appel’s painting, which develops through impulsive, spontaneous body movements” (“Karel Appel in His Period of Time,” in Karel Appel: Retrospective 1945- 2005, Danubiana Meulensteen Art Museum, 2005). This insightful observation applies admirably to the picture we have before us: the flamboyant Animals Coming from the Sun.
Like his compatriot De Kooning, Appel, who never completely abandoned the referents of figuration—if only in his choice of titles—nonetheless favoured a pictorial language in which colour prevails over line. In 1953, he began to use impastos that gradually released figure and ground from their straitjacket in order to accommodate fully material, uninhibited gestures with exuberant colours—elements of virtuosity that are amply evinced in Animals Coming from the Sun. As the title suggests, the subject of the painting calls for a birth, a burgeoning, as floral as it is animal, of masses of vibrant colour fusing everywhere, of ovoid gaps highlighted by nervy lines and some black scratch marks, blues and oranges, raw yellows, greens and organic browns, all of it abuzz with life and splendour. These sun-hailing animals are imbued with influences of the 1950s, during which Appel deployed typical imagery of fauna and flora (as in People, Birds, and Sun ). This painting loudly heralds the wide convolutions and inexhaustible gestural frenzy of the years that would follow.
The painting Woman and Ostrich, also from 1957, which presents a composition similar to that of Animals Coming from the Sun—they were both painted alla prima—earned Appel great honours, won him the Guggenheim International Award in 1960, and was later acquired by Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.