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Ornette Coleman born 1930
The Five Spot in New York was a raffish neighborhood bar that began promoting of avant-garde jazz bands in the late 1950s. It was probably where Elaine de Kooning drew this image of Ornette Coleman playing the alto saxophone. Coleman's sensational debut at the Five Spot in 1959 was the culmination of a long war with jazz conventions. Largely self-trained, he refused to follow swing or bebop conventions of improvisation and chord progressions. Coleman's unorthodox playing was at first controversial, but eventually his "free jazz" developed a following among serious musicians, and he became a regular at various New York jazz spots.

In this portrait, de Kooning, a skilled draftsman who had drawn obsessively ever since childhood, manipulated the graphite with stump and erasure to subvert form and outline. Jagged, repeated pencil lines substitute for hands, suggesting the motion of the fingers shaping a quick succession of notes. Other diagonals envelope the head and body, evoking the sensation of rhythm and sound.

Elaine de Kooning (19181989)
Graphite on paper, circa 1965
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Elaine de Kooning Trust
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