Karel Appel

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Christiaan Karel Appel was a prominent painter and sculptor who was one of the major founders of what would be known as the COBRA movement in the art world. Appel grew up in Amsterdam during the tumultuous interwar period in Europe. Appel applied for the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Amsterdam to both fulfill his artistic aspirations as well as to avoid forced labor as World War II broke out. His second application to the academy was accepted in 1942. While there, Appel would strike a friendship with Dutch artist Corneille with whom he would help found the COBRA movement. In 1946, Appel would host the first of his exhibitions in Groningen and Amsterdam.

Together with Corneille, Appel would meet Constant in 1948 and form the backbone of the Dutch element in the COBRA movement, a collection of avant garde artists from Copenhagen, Brussels, and Amsterdam who assembled within the Cafe Notre Dame in Paris. All three cities had been under Nazi occupation during the war which had colored each artist’s worldview in the postwar era. The COBRA movement used harsh, often frightening colors and imagery as mirrors to the turbulent era of the Cold War and nuclear proliferation. The movement often rejected the polish and form of traditionally European art, preferring to pull from more tribal “primitive” styles such as that from children, ancient civilizations, and the mentally ill.

Appel’s contributions to the art world included avant garde paintings such as 1947’s Questioning Children, 1949’s Hip, Hip. Hoorah! and 1954’s People, Birds and Sun. Appel also created abstract found sculptures such as 1950’s The Elephant and 1977’s Flying Fish. Appel tended to use bright hues of white, red, blue, and yellow along with black with terrifying Jungian imagery. He built a repertoire with jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie while doing his portrait within a series of jazz portraits. Gillespie returned the favor by doing the music for the 1961 film The Reality of Karel Appel. In the 80’s and 90’s, Appel collaborated on mixed media performance pieces with figures like poet Allan Ginsburg and choreographer Min Tanaka.

Christaan Karel Appel died in 2006 in his Zurich Switzerland house at the age of 85 from a heart related illness. Among the papers that posted his obituary was The Guardian and The New York Times. The Karel Appel Foundation is devoted to promoting higher public awareness of Christaan Karel Appel and his artwork.

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