‪(Video) To be or not to be

‘Touching the secret of life’ is the key motivation behind an artist’s work according to Dutch artist, Karel Appel.

Appel was one of the artists who comprised the CoBrA art movement during the late 1940s. Although the members’ initial intention was to question hierarchies through various media, the movement eventually gained recognition for the childlike, primitive imagery of the artists. The CoBrA acronym was derived from the initial members’ home towns of Copenhagen, Brussels, and Amsterdam.

During a time when the Netherlands was recovering from war and its inhabitants were suspicious of Communism, these artists weren’t well received in Karel Appel’s homeland. In 1949, Appel’s commissioned mural in Amsterdam’s city hall canteen caused such an uproar that it was almost immediately covered. The mural, titled Vragende Kinderen or begging children/questioning children was too hard a reminder of wartime for the civil servants. Soon after – together with fellow artists, Corneille and Constant – Appel packed his belongings and moved to France. The mural remained under a layer of wallpaper for 10 years.

Appel and his counterparts didn’t receive much homeland praise for their work until the 90s. Fellow CoBrA Dutchman, Corneille, even gained commercial exposure through a popular Dutch retailer who offered collectible porcelainware imprinted with his artworks. Today, you can find these collectibles at just about every secondhand store and fleamarket in the country. Yours truly even has a couple of the small, shallow bowls in her kitchen cupboard.

In addition to his paintings and sculptures, Karel Appel was also an acclaimed author and poet who, on several occasions, collaborated with Beat Generation writers, Gregory Corso and Allen Ginsberg.

There’s an oddness to this clip of Karel Appel sharing his views on being an artist and ‘being present’ that, if you’ve been following this portion of the website, shouldn’t be a surprise. I really enjoyed the imagery. I also appreciate the time taken by the uploader to translate Karel Appel’s words from Dutch to English. There’s one translation, in particular, that I would have adjusted. At the 2:50 mark, it sounds as though he’s saying, “Every theory, every story, every intellectual approach is redundant.” Haha, dear youtube poster, I get the point!

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