Think de Kooning is Groovy? Tune in to Fred Smilde

30 x 24 Painting Oil on stretched canvas
Fred Smilde. Which Way to Go. (Available on

The attitude that nature is chaotic and that the artist puts order into it is a very absurd point of view, I think. All that we can hope for is to put some order into ourselves.

Willem de Kooning
Example of Willem de Kooning's Abstract Painting
Willem de Kooning. Interchange. 1955 via

This week’s featured artist is Fred Smilde, a painter we think fans of Willem de Kooning will appreciate. Considered a leader of the Abstract Expressionist movement, Willem de Kooning is sometimes described as “a painter’s painter” because of how thoroughly he explored the process and the medium. He placed less emphasis on the subject matter, and more on the activity and materials of the painting process itself.

De Kooning was a rigorously trained artist and quite capable of highly realistic renderings from nature. De Kooning’s abstract works are an exhaustive study on all the possibilities of the physical properties of paint as a medium. But not only that, he was influenced by Picasso to explore the process of drawing/painting itself, that is breaking down a 3-dimensional form and translating it to a 2-dimensional plane, recreating structure in a new format.

gold and blue painting by de-Kooning
Willem de Kooning. Untitled. 1958 via

This preoccupation with issues of order, structure, and organization in painting is shared by a contemporary artist we very much admire, Fred Smilde. Fred Smilde’s style is reminiscent of de Kooning’s. His compositions are lyrical, informed by his musical background and his sense of color is worthy of de Kooning. We recently interviewed Fred Smilde to find out more about this fascinating and highly prolific artist.

I am sure it is obvious de Kooning has been a big influence. I really like how he manipulated space, particularly his work from the late 40’s to the early 50’s. For me, organizing space in an interesting way is a primary concern in my work. 

Fred Smilde, interview with Lonely Ocean 2019

Smilde has a master’s degree in piano performance from Peabody Conservatory of the Johns Hopkins University, but while enrolled in the doctoral program, he decided it was in his best interest to leave. However, after roughly 10 years of creative inactivity, Fred began to paint. Walking away from a prestigious doctorate program is a pretty rebellious move in our opinion and Fred’s rebellious nature comes through in his expressive paintings.

For me, music and painting are fundamentally an exploration of the same thing. In a broad sweep, music is structure in time and painting is structure in space. In the end, to put it simply, I need to do something. Music and painting are so very similar, especially from an organizational point of view. They force the brain to make new connections. The beauty is that both do not end. There is always something new.

Fred Smilde, interview with Lonely Ocean 2019
Fred Smilde. Out for a Walk. (Available on

De Kooning famously worked and reworked paintings, not signing them until they had to leave the studio. Smilde has a similar work ethic and is focused on “mainly trying not to settle and work until one has something he or she can live with.”

Smilde is an extremely prolific painter and has over 200 artworks available on Saatchi that hang together as a coherent and high-quality body of work that would make most artists green with envy. Smilde will be included in a group exhibition at the University of Cincinnati in February 2020 and his work is available at

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