Every greater painter is dysfunctional in some way or at least had a hard life. Willem De Kooning has had a hard life, but seemed to overcome it with his passion for painting. De Kooning never conformed to certain styles; he always painted what he felt inside. Despite this he was categorized as an Abstract Expressionist painter, but was able to break the mold with his woman series. Even after death, his style still inspires contemporary painters.
Willem De Kooning was born April 24, 1904 in Rotterdam, Holland. His parents, Cornelia and Leendert De Kooning, were both involved in the alcohol business. They divorced when de Kooning was only five years old, after which, De Kooning stayed with his father for a brief period until his mother demanded that he should live with her. While living with his mom, de Kooning dropped out of grammar school in 1916 and became an apprentice to Jan and Jaap Giding. They ran a firm of commercial artists and decorators and convinced de Kooning to enroll. When de Kooning finished his training, the Gidings business helped him enroll in the Academie Voor Beeldende Kunsten en Technische Wetenschapen where he stayed for eight years (1916-1924). He left the school with a certification as an artist and a craftsperson. While studying as an artist he became a big fan of Dutch abstract artists known as DeStijl.
Wanting to learn knew things, he stowed away in a boat bound for the United States of America in 1924 without knowing a single word of English. He settled down in Hoboken, New Jersey and supported himself by house painting. During this time he tried other painters styles, but found that he could not do it as good. While on the path to discovering his own style he moved to New York and met Arshile Gorky, who would later become a good friend. Gorky greatly influenced De Koonings work by introducing him to Picasso’s Cubism. De Kooning, Gorky and Picasso later moved into a studio together to save money on rent. In 1935 De Kooning found full time employment through the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project. Then in 1939, De Kooning was commissioned by the New York World’s Fair to create a mural for the Hall of Pharmacy that he entitled Medicine. During this time he created a series of man paintings called Self-Portrait with Imaginary Brother (1938), Two Men Standing (1938), and Glazier (1940).