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Excavation, 1950 by Willem de Kooning

Excavation, Willem de Kooning's largest painting up to 1950, exemplifies the artist's innovative style of expressive brushwork and distinctive organization of space into loose, sliding planes with open contours.

According to de Kooning, his point of departure was an image of women working in a rice field from Bitter Rice, a 1949 Italian Neorealist film. The mobile structure of hooked, calligraphic lines defines anatomical parts - bird and fish shapes, human noses, eyes, teeth, necks, and jaws - revealing the particular tension between abstraction and figuration that is inherent in de Kooning's work. Aptly titled, the composition reflects his technically masterful painting process: an intensive building up of the surface and scraping down of its paint layers, often for months, until the desired effect was achieved.

Quote from Art Institute Chicago