Painter and sculptor, Karel Appel was born on April 25, 1921, in Amsterdam. He studied at Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten, Amsterdam from 1940-1943. He is recognized for establishing the COBRA group (1948-1951), a European avant-garde art movement known for its vigorous and rebellious style of painting inspired by folk and children’s art. He was influenced by various artists and intellectuals, including Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Jean Dubuffet. Similarly to the French Surrealists, he created bold, spontaneous forms in sweeping brush strokes which sprang from the unconscious mind. Appel dabbled in a variety of media, ranging from textile to ceramic as well as printmaking.
Appel moved to Paris in 1950 where he was introduced to art critic Michel Tapié, who supported him through organizing various exhibitions of his work. He developed a successful solo career, showing at the Palais des beaux-arts, Brussels, in 1953 and receiving the UNESCO Prize at the 1954 Venice Biennale. A major Appel show opened at the Centraal Museum, Utrecht, Netherlands (1970), and a retrospective toured Canada and the United States (1972). Appel pushed the genre of abstraction throughout the 1980’s, working in both sculpture and painting. During this time, he also collaborated with American poet Allen Ginsberg in a series of paintings juxtaposed with visual poetry.
Appel famously declared, “If I paint like a barbarian, it is because we live in a barbarous age,” an understable sentiment from a man who was born between two world wars. Leading Belgian author Hugo Klaus characterizes Appel’s work in the following words: “Appel’s receptiveness to the material, the tension in his colour, his plastic qualities, give his work a deeper dimension, a valuable power that children’s drawings only rarely evoke. The hesitant line of the child becomes an emotive strength with him, because the wildest rapture, the most spontaneous improvisation remains a construction created from mastery of the material.”