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Dramatic Composition

Willem de Kooning often combined abstraction and recognizable forms. In Woman and Bicycle, a standing woman is visible among the brushstrokes, slashes, scrapes, and smears of paint. De Kooning often changed his mind about where things would go—maybe that’s why the woman has two mouths! He kept the first mouth (the lower one) because it reminded him of a necklace. The painting captures the energy and movement of a stylish woman with a bicycle, but is this woman friendly or ferocious? What do you think?

Use a bold marker to draw the outline of a person’s head and shoulders on a piece of paper. Make sure to leave out the facial features. Make colorful paper shapes with construction paper or old magazines by tearing it into a variety of shapes. Such as thin strips, small dots, big blobs, and thick stripes. Arrange these pieces onto your face to create eyes, a nose, a mouth, eyebrows, ears, hair, and accessories. Don’t glue anything down yet! Experiment by moving the pieces around to create dramatic expressions. Keep rearranging your facial features to always create new expressions or stick them down with glue or tape to freeze the face you created.

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Willem de Kooning, Woman and Bicycle, 1952–53. Oil, enamel, and charcoal on linen, 76 1/2 × 49 1/8 in. (194.3 × 124.8 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase 55.35. © The Willem de Kooning Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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