Appel spent his youth in a working-class neighborhood of Amsterdam, where his father ran a barber shop. At his father's request, he received a hairdressing training. After disputes about his career aspirations as a painter, he left home and studied from 1940 to 1944 at the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts in Amsterdam. In 1948 he founded with Corneille and Constant, whom he had met while studying, the Nederlands Experimentele Groep. In the same year he founded with other artists the artists' group CoBrA.
1946 Appel had his first solo exhibition in Het Beerenhuis in Groningen and shortly thereafter took part in the exhibition Jonge Schilder's ( Young painter) at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam in part. In this period he was heavily influenced by the art of Picasso, Matisse and Dubuffet. He created the mural questioner children in the cafeteria of the city hall in Amsterdam. The indignation of the employees and the general public about the reminiscent of children's drawings image meant that the painting was covered for ten years. 1950 Appel moved to Paris. His international breakthrough came in 1953, when his works were shown at the São Paulo Biennial. There he was awarded the Grand Prize of the painting. 1951 was a fresco for the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, in 1959 he created a mural for the UNESCO building in Paris. Appel took part in documenta II (1959) and also the documenta III (1964 ) in Kassel.
He kept trying to connect his painting with other arts. 1962 Appel worked with Bert Schiebeek at the theater production Een groot dier ( " A big animal "). So he took in 1970 with Merrill Sanders and Chet Baker some music on. In 1987 he designed together with the dancer and choreographer Min Tanaka titled Peut -on danser le paysage? a dance project for the Paris Opera, which gave guest performances at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York and at the Nederlandse Opera in Amsterdam since then. In 1991 he worked with Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso at the "Poetry - Painting Series ", a combination between poetry and painting. In 1994 he co-developed with Tanaka several stage designs for Dutch opera houses. At the Nederlandse Opera, he created also in 1994 the equipment for the premiere of the opera Noach Guus Janssen and Friso Haverkamp in a production by Pierre Audi. For the 2006 Salzburg Festival Appel designed the stage for Mozart's The Magic Flute (directed by Pierre Audi, conductor Riccardo Muti ).
Around 1990, the artist had studios in New York, Connecticut, in Monaco and in Tuscany. He often stayed in New York, but also had a residence in Florence and forth between the U.S. and Europe.
In 1999, Appel Karel Appel Foundation built a ( Karel Appel Foundation), which he all rights hitherto suffered or incurred works rendered. This order was confirmed again in 2005 in a document created in Zurich Testament. In his last years he often stayed at in Zurich. There he died on 3 May 2006. Appel was buried in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.
Appel, whose style is attributed to abstract expressionism, has left an extensive body of work from about 10,000 sculptures, sculptures, drawings and paintings. The artist has become known for his paintings especially recently also finds his entire oeuvre attention. In addition to the CoBrA Appel was also significantly by Picasso, influenced by surrealism and the Art Brut.
The time of the Cobra, the avant-garde group of artists from the 1950s, has significantly influenced Appel's style. The influence can be found in his paintings in a primitive, coarse representation, in a garish colors and a childishly naive painting again. His motives were greatly simplified, first graphically - stylized landscape, animal and human figures. After the Cobra - phase lose their images figuration and the character of the Aggressive and brutal strengthened. He approaches to American Abstract Expressionism, but tried with a change of style to distinguish it. "Abstract painting is a fashion, a style product. I always use forms that are based on speaking objects. One should look a thing as a whole and not get lost in details. " Appel said at this time in an interview. From the 1970s his works were energetic and raw, until he returns in the 1980s, back to a figurative representation. His images are dark and gloomy, the garish colors disappears almost completely in order in his late phase, in the late 1980s to recur.
For his sculptures he used the blending technique. He collaged different materials, objects and patterns that he worked in the late phase also with acrylics.
Works by Karel Appel can be seen, inter alia, in the Cobra Museum.
- Nina Abrams, 1964
- Peter Stuyvesant, Collage 1965, 75,5 x 56 cm.
"I am a barbarian painter in a barbaric time. "
- The will to power the planet / I am the Planet / You're the Planet / We are the planets poems from the years 1941 to 1996. Gachnang & Springer, 2000 ISBN 978-3-906127-61-3 Bern (Minor Edition: King bookstore, Cologne)
- Pathological Psycho notebook drawings and gouaches from 1948 to 1950. ibid 1997 ISBN 978-3-906127-52-1
- Lyotard, Jean François: Karel Appel: A color gesture. Essay on the art of Karel Appel. Bern -Berlin: Springer Verlag & Gachnang, 1998, ISBN 978-3-906127-53-8.
- Post- COBRA - Alechinsky Appel, Jorn. Exhibition catalog Essl Museum ( 23.1.09-16.8.2009 ), ed. v. Edition Sammlung Essl Foundation, Klosterneuburg 2009, ISBN 978-3-902001-48-1, ( Engl. and Engl, 128 pp. with numerous color illustrations. texts by Karlheinz Essl, Rudi Fuchs, Daniela Balogh and EMH van Dooren )