This work is registered in the Archive of the Karel Appel Foundation.
'I never try to make a painting, but a chunk of life. I try to make the impossible possible. What is happening I cannot foresee; it is a surprise. Painting, like passion, is an emotion full of truth and rings a living sound like the roar coming from a lion's breast' (K. Appel, quoted in 'My Paint is like a Rocket', 1953, in K. Stiles and P. Selz (eds.), Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles 1996, p. 209).
With its wildly gestural brushwork of swirling, thick oil paint, Deux personnages is an expressive example of Karel Appel's practice in the early-1960s. Informed by the international reputation of Abstract Expressionism, in Deux personnages bright red, black and blue pigment collide and intermingle over a washed white background. Just discernible are two abstracted figures made up of wild brush strokes; this dynamic fusion of texture and undefined line bears witness to the physical nature of the painting's execution. Refusing any pictorial hierarchy, Appel's vigorous mark making speaks to his vision of the world and the role art plays in it. 'What counts for me,' he said, 'is impulse, energy, speed action. That's when the really unexpected things happen; the true expressive image that rises undefinably out of the mass of matter, speed and colour' (K. Appel, quoted in T. Brakeley (ed.), Karel Appel, New York 1980, p. 164). The overwhelming and enthusiastic vitality that erupts from Deux personnages is telling of Appel's attempts to relate the making of art to everyday existence: art is not a remote realm detached from everyday experience, but something intrinsically entangled with the world's raw materials. Appel explains, 'Painting is a tangible, sensual experiencing, intensely moved by the joy and the tragedy of man. A spatial experiencing, fed by instinct, becomes a living shape. The atmosphere I inhale and make tangible by my paint is an expression of my era' (K. Appel, quoted in 'A statement', 1950, in Karel Appel: Paintings 1980-85, exh. cat., Bristol, Arnolfini, 1986, p. 13).
Painted in 1960, Deux personnages displays how Appel gradually is distancing himself from his affiliation with the CoBrA Group he had joined in 1948. The avant-garde European movement aimed to liberate colour and form in response to the horrors of the Second World War. But by the 1960s Appel's Primitive Expressionism had re-addressed itself towards the aesthetic concerns that were shaping the art world on the other side of the Atlantic. Introduced by the critic Michel Tapi to Abstract Expressionism and to Jackson Pollock's signature gestural works in Paris in 1951, Appel frequently visited America from 1957 where he began to exhibit in New York, where he was inspired by jazz musicians like Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Count Basie and Sarah Vaughan, whose portraits he painted later that year. Deux personnages's colourful and impulsive brushstrokes embody this important phase in the artist's career, signaling his rise to international recognition.