Karel Appel (1921-2006), La Fleur et les oiseaux (The Flower and the Birds), painted in 1951. 73 x 92 cm

Painting of a tree by Alechinsky
“Tree” by Pierre Alechinsky

Despite your regrets, which I share, the CoBrA movement does not refer to a break dance figure imitating the crawling to which the monocled cobra, the Round Island boa and indeed, the dark-spotted anaconda were condemned by God (quite unfairly) for their love of apple pie.

The CoBrA movement is actually a painting movement whose name is the acronym of Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam, cities where the main founders of this experimental movement came from after the Second World War. While the art market was dominated by American abstract expressionism, the main objective of the CoBrA movement was to resolve the historical dispute between figuration and abstraction and above all to free itself from any diktat inherited from “old” forms.

To achieve this, the artists pertaining to the CoBrA movement responded with an abstraction dominated by a creative freedom full of strength and spontaneity which openly drew its inspiration from the naive, art brut (“raw art”) but also from the so-called “primitive” arts put forward by André Breton.

Although the CoBrA movement officially lasted only a little over a year (from 1948 to 1949), its influence was radical for many artists and some (such as Pierre Alechinsky) still claim to prolong their distinctive technique although one must admit that the CoBrA movement has somewhat evolved over time.

But no more intellectualizing speeches: the CoBrA movement was willing to be accessible to all although it is dificult to grasp. I suggest you admire the paintings of Alechinsky, Karel Appel, Jean-Michel Atlan and Jacques Doucet in the gallery below.

Looking at those stunning artworks, I can see colors and structure seem actually free but I wonder what binds together those claimed CoBrA painters: what do they have in common ? All painting movements are diverse. We all know for instance that very various artists are considered under the label “abstract expressionism”. This is probably is the same in CoBrA. Still, what I feel looking at all of those artwork is that they have in common an incredible strengh and freedom probably coming from the spontaneity of so called “primitive” art.

A beautiful quote from Karel Appel will guide you in your (possible) discovery of this pictorial movement: “(a) table is no longer a construction of colors and lines, but an animal, a night, a cry, a human being, it forms an indivisible whole”.

  • (this is an article translated from French written back in May. Should you rather read it in this language: rendez-vous here)

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