Flying Man


Karel Appel
Amsterdam 1929 - 2006
oil on canvas
145 x 114 cm
Inventory number 2897

Dutch artist Karel Appel was one of the founders of the avant-garde CoBrA movement, established on 8 November 1948. Appel was an intuitive artist: he never planned his work in advance and approached it as a surrender to the creative act with paint. He regarded this spontaneity as an integral part of the subject matter. His actions during the application of the paints are clearly discernible as expressions of his intuitive, quasi-primal, inner force. Flying Man is characterised by thick layers of paint and bright contrasting hues. Large fields of colour are interspersed with nervous, capricious dashes and snaking lines of yellow and white on the one hand and red and blue on the other. However abstract the composition may initially appear, it is in fact a figurative painting. On closer viewing, the seemingly random white lines form the profile of a head; the black spots on the red area are eyes; and the figure is wearing a hat with ribbons that float through the blue sky. To the right, one can make out a bird with blue, yellow and red feathers.

Appel as a bird

In the late 1950s, Appel famously declared that he wanted to be a bird. He felt birds epitomise individual freedom and acts that cross the boundaries of chauvinism and bigotry. What followed was a performance in which Appel, attached to a helicopter, flew through the sky, much like the flying man in this painting.

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