'Art should commit violence' (Appel, quoted in M. Ragon, Karel Appel: Peinture 1937-57, p. 193).
The animals in Le ferme are visibly smiling, yet the childlike and expressionistic colours in the background are anxious, not jolly. Karel Appel's bright, lively animals are a contrast to the deliberately sordid base colours, expressing both the 'joy and the tragedy of man' (K. Appel quoted in Karel Appel, New York, 1980, p. 49). At the end of the Second World War, Appel traveled around Holland from farm to farm, working and painting in return for bed and board. This picture's theme therefore has personal overtones for the artist. His use of red in particular illustrates this, as it was an important ingredient in Appel's works. In 1950, the year Le ferme was painted, plastics were uncommon in Holland, but Appel had been amazed by the texture and depth of colour of a morsel of red plastic he had found. Immediately, he started including deep reds in his art. The contrast between the colour's modern source and the traditional motif of the farm cuts to the heart of this painting, an anxious, vociferous paean to the increasingly obsolete countryside and so to the lost pre-War world.
The children and animals who populate Le ferme form part of Appel's huge personal iconographical lexicon of beasts and people, some imagined and imaginary, others real. The imagined beasts are not fictitious so much as they are indefinable, escaping categorization. Although the pig to the right of the picture is clearly pig-like, the other animal is a little trickier--is it a tail-less cat, a dog, even a donkey? These blurred boundaries extend to the children, depicted as looking at the viewer. Children in Appel's art do not so much represent a return to innocence as a return to uninhibited imagination and therefore creativity. There is a spark of life in the creation and appreciation of a child which is unrestrained, unhampered by the prescriptive regulation of 'ordered' society. As Appel himself maintained, 'To paint is to destroy what preceded. I never try to make a painting, but a chunk of life. It is a scream; it is a night; it is like a child; it is like a caged tiger.'
This childlike spontaneity extends to Appel's artistic style. The creation of Le ferme was obviously frantic and spontaneous, not bound by the restrictions of academic aesthetic convention. Appel unleashed himself at this picture, the activity of painting almost ferocious. This violence can be seen especially in the brushstrokes on the animals, despite their being the calmest elements in the picture. Appel said of his painting style: 'Sometimes my work looks very childish or child-like, schizophrenic or stupid, but that was a good thing for me, because for me the material is the paint itself. In a mass of paint, I find my imagination and go to paint it," (K. Appel quoted from an interview with Alan Hanlon, New York, 1972).