Sheehan & Willem de Kooning


Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning – Photography by John J. Sheehan.

Sheehan & Willem de Kooning relationship always had an awkward air,  probably because they were such opposites:  Sheehan was charming articulate & out going whereas Bill was reserved, defensive, socially calculating.

” Bill had a small place over on Carmine Street where he would go and hide out for weeks,  then would tell everybody he was recovering from drinking. ”

Sheehan also believed de Kooning used to fake being drunk when he was in the Cedar,  as he could become unnaturally sober at any time throughout the night.  He never had  serious discussions with Bill about Art or painting, most of their encounters were blagarding each other. The stories John relayed to me of Bill were of an ordinary day-to-day sort.  One time Bill came over to ask for a loan of cab fare (about $2) to get up to see his wife in hospital;  John gave him $20,  knowing he could use it to tide him through the emergency.   Six or seven years later when Sheehan was in The Cedar one afternoon talking to Sam the owner, de Kooning came in and walked straight up to John and put $20 on the bar and said;

  “Do you know I’ve been avoiding you on the street , ducking into doorways whenever I saw you since you lent me this money, I was embarrassed cause I couldn’t pay you back.”

Sheehan was astonished by this as he had forgotten all about it.

In the late 40’s when Kline started to get some recognition John recalled how de Kooning came over to where he & Kline were talking in the Cedar and said

” Franz us Dutch gotta stick together”

This was the first time de Kooning acknowledged Kline as an Artist after knowing him for almost 18 years; and even though De Kooning later worked on a book  with Kline (         )  his painting was never influenced by Kline’s Painting and Kline was never influenced by de Kooning’s painting,  neither before or after this invitation to stick together.

Wilhelm de Kooning although he had a place in the Village spent most of his time uptown and didn’t really have much to do with Kline or Sheehan except living in the Village.  de Kooning didn’t take either of them seriously as Artists until Kline started to get successful.    I always wondered why it took De Kooning so long to acknowledge Kline as a painter worthy of his attention,  after having known him since the early thirties and making no reference to Kline among his early influences?  Perhaps it is because he didn’t see Kline as an Artist of any importance while Bill was hanging out with Gorky & Graham in the 30’s & 40′.  There is no visible evidence of Kline’s influence in any of de Kooning’s paintings, because they really didn’t have much to do with each other until after they had already matured as Artists.

Most of the stories Sheehan told Yowell about Bill were illustrations of Bill’s character & demeanor,  ordinary day-to-day encounters, not discussions of ideas or Art;  most of their exchanges were stilted jiving or retorts,; very different from the exchanges Sheehan Pollock & Kline had, they never tired of discussing it in a playful way, especially when drinking beer, but in the beginning 5 cent coffee was enough to keep them going.