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Sunshine People: Smiling in the Sun, Lithograph on paper, 1974

Dutch painter, sculptor, and poet Christiaan Karel Appel (1921-2006) was one of the founders of the 1948 European avant-garde movement known as COBRA. Simply referring to the names of the cities in which the members of the movement resided (Copenhagen, Brussels, and Amsterdam), the inspiration for COBRA artwork derives from spontaneity and experimentation. Artists practicing in this style were particularly interested in children’s drawings, “primitive” works of art, and the compositions of Paul Klee and Joan Miró.

The COBRA movement to which Appel belonged was itself part of a larger stylistic movement known as abstract expressionism. Abstract expressionism exhibits a combination of the emotional intensity of German Expressionism with the aesthetic preferences of the anti-figural abstract schools in Europe, such as Cubism, Futurism, and Bauhaus. Although Appel’s works do include figures, he maintains abstract expressionism’s rebellious sensibility by rendering them nearly indistinguishable. For example, in Sunshine People: Smiling in the Sun, the solid blue shape on the composition’s left-hand side suggests the profile of a human face, yet it is without attachment to a human body, and appears to float freely through a sea of color. Indeed, the bright and highly saturated colors convey a lighthearted mood and create a luminous “space,” effectively removing all notions of seriousness just as the artist intended.