In 1969, Willem de Kooning traveled to Rome to participate in the festival of Two Worlds. It was not the artist's first visit to the city. A decade earlier, de Kooning had vacationed in Rome, a month of rest following one of the most magnificent and productive periods of his career. De Kooning's second visit, however, was given over to work and resulted in the artist's first attempts at sculpture -- an intense and focused effort that resulted in thirteen works, Untitled (Rome Series) among them. In his painting, de Kooning rarely left the metaphor of the human body behind. So, too, with Untitled (Rome Series). It is not hard, for instance, to see a figure: squat legged and splayed, a prehistoric Venus fashioned from mud. The sculpture communicates de Kooning's enthusiastic response to the properties of clay, as though the artist's sensory intelligence had been freed-if only momentarily -- from the brush. As de Kooning remarked: "The figure is nothing unless you can twist it around like a strange miracle" (M. Stevens and A. Swan, De Kooning: An American Master, New York: Knopf, 2004, p. 523).
"Like de Kooning's drawings of the time, the sculptures were done with his eyes closed and, while not abstracted, evoked the feel rather than the appearance of the body. Heavy limbed and earthbound, with something of the primordial ooze about them, each seemed in the process of being born. In contrast to the smooth and anonymous surfaces of much modern sculpture, the figures, each remarkably personal, were full of thumb- and fingerprints: de Kooning's hand was always close at hand" (De Kooning: An American Master, p. 526).
"About 1958, de Kooning began a series of brush-and-ink still-life drawings of shirts lying loosely in a just-opened laudry package. These contain implications which were to fully emerge during a trip to Rome in late 1959 and early 1960. The free, crisply drawn lines cover the page with large shapes suggested by the folded shirts in their wrapping paper. There is a graphic similarity in these pages to a few isolated ink drawings dating from 1954. The moving line, while it may suggest to the Occidental viewer "calligraphy" with an Oriental connotation, differs from its Eastern source, since it springs neither from the written language nor from the stylized system of marks developed for drawing. The stable blocky, geometric, forms, whose brio evokes the quick thrust of the brushes. The correctness of the line's path is always assured, even though the velocity is increasing. The lines here offer the occasion to enjoy the dynamics of the drawn gesture for its own sake.
From December through January 1960, de Kooning resided in Rome, where he used a studio provided by a friend, the painter Afro. De Kooning worked with black enamel to which he had added powdered pumice stone, thereby introducing a gritty texture to the paint's usually even, velvety surface. He placed the images on the floor and then drew with long, sweeping lines. Many where then torn in half or into strips to be reassembled later. Again, he employed this mechanical device, often trumpted by the Surrealists, to introduce chance. The drawings became literal abstract constructions, differing from the mental construct of the figure drawings...affirming a high sense of abstraction." Paul Cummings, "The Drawings of Willem de Kooning," Willem de Kooning Drawings, Paintings, Sculpture, New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1983, p. 19.