PERSONAL: Female. Education: Princeton University, received degree, 1973.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Alfred A. Knopf, 1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019.
CAREER: Staff writer for Time magazine; music critic and senior arts editor for Newsweek.
AWARDS, HONORS: Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and National Book Critics Circle Award, both 2004, and Pulitzer Prize, 2005, all for De Kooning: An American Master.
(With Mark Stevens) De Kooning: An American Master, A. A. Knopf (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor to periodicals, including New Republic, Atlantic Monthly, and New York.
SIDELIGHTS: Journalist and music critic Annalyn Swan turned to the field of biography, along with coauthor Mark Stevens, in the Pulitzer Prize-winning De Kooning: An American Master, an in-depth look at Dutch-born abstract-expressionist painter Willem de Kooning. Born in 1904 in the Netherlands, de Kooning experienced a difficult early life of poverty, abuse, and deprivation. At age twelve he was apprenticed to a decorating firm. Recognizing his talent right away, the owners sent him to night school, where he developed his decorating talent and artistic abilities. At age twenty-two, he came to America by stowing away on a ship, and with hardly more resources than the clothes he wore he set about making his way in his adopted homeland. De Kooning retained his superior draftsman's skills even as he plunged into the world of modernist painting, where he became a master of abstract-expressionist art and, some would say, one of the greatest American artists of the twentieth century.
De Kooning's rise to greatness, however, was not an easy one. Many of his most serious problems were unfortunately self-inflicted. "Blessed with startling good looks, a skewed and eminently quotable verbal acuity, a marvelous capacity for friendship and, of course, talent nurtured by ceaseless work, de Kooning was also beset by grand-scale demons, chief among them an alcoholism that rivaled Jackson Pollock's," commented Richard Kalina in Art in America. He was a known womanizer, so much so that he taught his many girlfriends to each ring the doorbell in a different way, letting him know immediately who had come to visit. De Kooning was also obsessive; one of his better-known works, Woman I, took him more than two years to finish. He was hailed as a genius in his own time, however, and he enjoyed the prominence of being on top of the New York art community during the 1950s. Though his personal and professional lives were both chaotic, his work sustained him. Beset with dementia in his waning years, de Kooning later painted only with the copious input of studio assistants. He stopped working completely in 1990, and died seven years later.
Library Journal contributor Marcia Welsh called De Kooning a "masterly biography" and a "fascinating and dynamic look at the artist, his work, and his world." For Kalina, the book's greatest value lies in Swan's "thorough and illuminating exposition of the social history of the various milieus that de Kooning inhabited," resulting in "a book that's well-paced and terrifically engaging." New Yorker critic Peter Schjeldahl concluded: "To read the book is to spend hours in the company of the most interesting of men, ever on the threshold of moments when mere interest dissolves into hot, stammering creative bliss."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Art in America, April, 2005, Richard Kalina, "Ab-ex Rex," review of De Kooning: An American Master, p. 49.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, February 27, 2005, Pierre Ruhe, "Artist of America's Rise 'A Gorgeous Wreck' of a Genius, de Kooning Pure Painter," review of De Kooning, p. L8.
Booklist, November 1, 2004, Donna Seaman, review of De Kooning, p. 164.
Boston Globe, April 3, 2005, Christine Temin, "The Sad Rhythms of a Passionate, Prolific Life," p. D9.
Library Journal, February 15, 2005, Marcia Welsh, review of De Kooning, p. 126.
National Review, February 28, 2005, James Panero, "Dutch Boy Paints," p. 54.
New Criterion, February, 2005, Karen Wilkin, "De Kooning Declined," p. 64.
Newsweek, November 22, 2004, Malcolm Jones, "DeLovely de Kooning: A Great New Biography of the Artist Looks Past the Legend and Finds Modernism's Most Contradictory Genius," p. 71.
New Yorker, December 20, 2004, Peter Schjeldahl, "The Painting Life," p. 176.
People, December 6, 2004, Jonathan Durbin, review of De Kooning, p. 58.
Publishers Weekly, October 11, 2004, review of De Kooning, p. 65.
Reviewer's Bookwatch, January, 2005, Henry Berry, review of De Kooning.
San Francisco Chronicle, January 16, 2005, Kenneth Baker, "A Bumpy Path to Greatness: Biography Traces de Kooning's Genius and Unraveling," p. B3.
Time, November 22, 2004, Richard Lacayo, "The Gorgeous Wreck: A Superb Biography Looks at the Exalted Art and Difficult Life of the Painter Willem de Kooning," p. 86.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), January 23, 2005, Anthony W. Lee, "An Expressive Life: A Robust Biography of Dutch-Born America-inspired Artist Willem de Kooning," p. 1.
Washington Post Book World, November 28, 2004, Joyce Johnson, "Bohemian Rhapsody," review of De Kooning, p. 9.
Random House Web site, http://www.randomhouse.com/ (June 19, 2005), "Annalyn Swan."