“When I started, I used to look at children’s drawings. They gave me the impetus I needed to free myself from the things I’d learnt during my classical education. I could then begin with a blank page like a child – or let’s say, like a ‘child-adult.’ I started again from scratch thanks to these children’s drawings, which were like a gust of fresh air.” (Karel Appel: Paintings 1980-85, 19)
Throughout a nearly six-decade career, Appel pushed his studio practice to extremes, often shifting between abstraction and figuration, never content to settle on one signature style, media, or body of work. His earliest works, created during the time he co-founded the COBRA group with Asger Jorn, Christian Dotremont, and Constant, make evident his interest in the uninhibited artistic experience. As a member of the Dutch Experimental Group and later Art Informel, Appel drew his earliest and possibly greatest inspiration from folk art, children’s drawings, and the works of the mentally disturbed. This is perhaps most clear in The Psychopathological Notebook, a collection of free-form drawings on pages of catalogue text from the International Exhibition on Psychopathological Art (1950) at the Saint-Anne Hospital for the mentally ill in Paris. Visiting this exhibition on multiple occasions proved impactful for Appel and would inform much of his work in the following years.