04/24/2012 08:24 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Happy Birthday, Willem De Kooning! (PHOTOS)

Willem de Kooning, an art icon and one of the pioneers of the Abstract Expressionism movement, would turn 108 today. Join us in remembering his tremendous contributions to the art world on his birthday. In the 1950s De Kooning changed the course of painting from an exercise in figurative representation to an active event, and a rebellious one at that. As written in "De Kooning: An American Master": "He did not mind aggressively celebrating the vulgar."

Still Life, 1945

The Rotterdam-born painter moved to the US in 1926 and soon landed in New York where he became a fixture of the Greenwich village art scene. The New York Times' obit described him as "a striking man, half Dutch sailor, half Charlie Chaplin in baggy trousers, with his thick Dutch accent, home-grown English patois (the artist Robert Rauschenberg called it ''his beautiful lingo''), clear blue eyes and shock of white hair."

De Kooning's works can be described as violent, frenzied, grotesque and orgiastic. Impossible to pin down in subject matter, influence and style, the artist was constantly caught between Europe and America, high art and low art, tradition and rebellion. His heroic brushstroke was likened to the voice of Walt Whitman, who praised his anthropomorphic self and his electric passion. ''I have to change to stay the same'' De Kooning would often tell people.

Park Rosenberg, 1957

Most famous for his controversial "Women" series, De Kooning's misogynist works blew up typically alluring female parts like lips, hips and breasts into monstrous proportions. Women were turned into terrifying forces of nature, creating a mixed message of love and hate that continues to puzzle still today. And yet, he was much more than his neuroses and fears, which is why we celebrate his work today.

Happy Birthday, Mr. De Kooning!