After World War II, many artists in Western Europe longed for change, in response to the disrupted world in which they were left. They envisioned the radical change of society and wanted to achieve it by shedding everything that was “hollow and empty” and arriving at the deepest values of art and life. They reject the Western art tradition and instead opt for a more sensitive, intuitive, primitive type of art creation.
After the borders were opened in 1945, many artists were able to travel and visit each other again. Many of them go to Paris, the city they consider to be the artistic center. This is also where the term “informal painting” originates. In 1951, the French essayist Michel Tapié introduces the concept of ‘art informel’ (art without form) at the exhibition ‘Véhémences confrontées’, in which he describes informal painting as a style that focuses exclusively on the act of painting and only during that process, recognizable shapes arise spontaneously or not. This movement parallels abstract expressionism, such as that introduced in the US by artists such as Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. As an overarching concept, both movements are placed under the heading ‘informal painting’, together with techniques such as dripping (drops and streaks of paint falling on the canvas, splashing), action painting (the spontaneous act of setting up paint without a preconceived plan: dripping, swinging, swinging) and material painting (adding earthy materials to the paint). Dutch artists that belong to this movement are the members of CoBrA, but also Armando, Bram Bogart, Jaap Wagemaker, Wim de Haan, Jan Schoonhoven, herman de vries and Willem de Kooning.
On July 16, 1948, the Dutch Experimental Group was founded by Karel Appel, Constant Nieuwenhuys, Corneille, Anton Rooskens, Eugène Brands and Theo Wolvecamp, among others. On November 8, 1948, this group was partially absorbed into the international CoBrA movement, of which the last three artists were only a short part: after the large, rather noisy CoBrA exhibition in the Stedelijk Museum in November 1949, they decided to withdraw.
The manifesto that Constant draws up for the Dutch Experimental Group, and which is still of great importance during the CoBrA period, states among other things: ‘The child knows no other law than his spontaneous sense of life and has no other need than to express this . The same is true of primitive cultures, and it is this trait that lends such cultures such a charm to today’s man who must live in a morbid sphere of falsehood, lies, and infertility. ” (…) “A painting is not a construction of colors and lines, but an animal, a night, a scream, a person, or all that together.”
During the same period, Jaap Wagemaker became known as a material painter. In this role, he joined Jean Dubuffet, Alberto Burri and Antoni Tàpies to the small group of artists who have represented this movement worldwide since the late 1950s. The material (usually earthy base materials such as sand, slate, shells and jute) is added to the color and used as an object and means for the works of art. From 1958 to 1959 Wagemaker came to a very personal form of material painting: his works give the impression that he comes from an organic process. It seems like looking at craters, frozen magma and lunar landscapes. In contrast to the action painting process by Karel Appel and Jackson Pollock, for example, Wagemaker’s works give the impression that they were created without human intervention.
The painter, sculptor and installation artist Wim de Haan is one of the most important Dutch material painters together with Jaap Wagemaker and Bram Bogart. The material effects and the visual power that materials can have were used in material painting. This often led to works of art in which other materials (sand, metal, wood, etc.) were incorporated in addition to pasty and expressly applied paint. The material from which the artwork is made is considered both as form, content, source of inspiration and purpose. De Haan moved in circles of the informal group and was a member of the Liga Nieuw Beelden in 1958-59. He was once called “the lonely seeker of origin”.
All post-war forms of informal painting can be captured in one word under ‘freedom’. Modern art seems to have elevated her to a creed. With the letting go of reality, of the true-to-life imagination, the possibilities have become virtually limitless, both in the use of means and style and in the choice of the subject. But also in the interpretation of the artwork infinite freedom has been created – for artist and viewer. Each painter or sculptor decides for himself what he wants to depict, how this takes shape and what meaning should be attached to it. There is also room for the opinion of another who views the work from his own perception.