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Karel Appel (1921–)

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Dutch painter and sculptor who helped to pioneer an unrestrained, physical style of painting in Europe in the period following World War II (after 1945). Appel's work is distinguished by thick application of paint, violent colors, and vehement brush stroke combined with a sense of childlike naïveté.

Born in Amsterdam, Appel studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts there from 1940 to 1943. After the isolation and oppressive atmosphere of the war years (World War II, 1939-1945) in the Netherlands, Appel was drawn to the raw, expressive work of French artist Jean Dubuffet, whose primitive imagery and energetic style contrasted with the more formal, geometric work that was dominant in Europe at that time. Appel first aroused public interest in 1946, when he was included in an exhibition entitled Young Artists at Amsterdam's Stedelijk Museum.

In 1948, together with Dutch artist Corneille, Danish artist Asger Jorn, and Belgian artist Pierre Alechinsky, Appel helped form an experimental group called Cobra. Finding inspiration in folk art, children's drawings, and prehistoric art (see Paleolithic Art), Cobra glorified instinct and opposed rigorously intellectual approaches to art, aims it held in common with a similar movement in the United States, abstract expressionism. In 1949 Appel was commissioned to paint a mural for the cafeteria of the Amsterdam City Hall. His response, a wildly colored painting of bitterly smiling children, so disturbed the employees who took their meals there that the City Council was pressured into ordering it covered over, despite protest by the artistic community. In 1950 Appel moved to Paris, France, where he became well known for his humorous, crude imagery and stormy painting style, seen in works such as Amorous Dance (1955, Tate Gallery, London, England).

Appel was awarded the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) prize at the Venice Biennale exhibition in 1954 and in 1960 was given first prize at the Guggenheim International exhibition. In the late 1960s, he began working with three-dimensional forms, producing, first, a series of large relief sculptures in painted wood and, later, brightly colored plastic reliefs and large-scale aluminum sculptures. In 1972 he began to live and work part of each year in New York City. His celebrated work Appel Circus (1976-1978) combines thirty color etchings with fifteen painted wooden sculptures. In 1982 he collaborated with American poet Allen Ginsberg on a colorful series of paintings and visual poems. Since 1990 Appel has created sculptures combining wood, plaster, and found objects.

"Appel, Karel," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2001
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