Painter Tom Ferrara was Willem de Kooning’s studio assistant for nearly a decade, beginning in 1979, when Ferrara was just 25. It was the opportunity of a lifetime. “Bill,” as Ferrara called him, was a world-famous artists by then—and perhaps its most important. A founding father of the Abstract Expressionist movement, he, along with painters like Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Franz Klein, had permanently changed the history of Modern Art and relocated its center from Paris to New York.
Pollock’s death in a drunk driving accident in 1956 had left de Kooning as Abstract Expressionism’s public face. But the pressures and exigencies of that role—and of the city, itself—stifled de Kooning, and he moved permanently to East Hampton, on Long Island, in 1963. The change in de Kooning’s work was unmistakable: His jagged lines, simple colors and furious, obsessive revisions in thick paint gave way to a greater fluidity. The colors