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John Graham

Ukranian-American Painter

Movements and Styles: Surrealism, Cubism, Abstract Expressionism

Born: Disputed (August 7, 1881 or 1886-1888) - Kiev, Ukraine

Died: 1961 - London, UK

John Graham Timeline

Important Art by John Graham

The below artworks are the most important by John Graham - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Still Life with Recorder and Cards (1923)
Artwork Images

Still Life with Recorder and Cards (1923)

Artwork description & Analysis: This painting was produced only a few years after Graham arrived in New York and began studying under John Sloan at the Art Students League. While Graham was already familiar with the work of artists like Kandinsky, Malevich and Picasso, this canvas is still representational and shows the influence of the still life work of painters like Cézanne, especially in the treatment of the folds of the tablecloth. The tablecloth, like the other objects, is arranged deliberately rather than naturally to provide an opportunity to foreground the transitions between light and shodow. Graham extends the table to the extreme lower edge of the picture plane, which flattens the composition into a series of geometric shapes, and consequently negates realistic depiction of pictorial space. As Graham's frequent transatlantic travels exposed him to the European avant-garde, his style grew significantly more abstract, and by the end of the decade his paintings strongly resembled those of Picasso.

Oil on canvas - Mark Borghi Fine Art Inc.

Iron Horse (1927)
Artwork Images

Iron Horse (1927)

Artwork description & Analysis: Iron Horse clearly reflects Graham's interest in Surrealism, in particular the work of Giorgio de Chirico. Graham aggressively incorporated the styles of the European avant-gardes whom he met on frequent trips to Paris. Here, Graham placed a horse, suggestive of a sculpture or a carousel, in a deserted streetscape of nondescript geometric buildings cast in shadows under eerie, threatening skies. Though not present in this work, Graham often arranged additional objects around the central figure that seem discordant with the setting and contribute to the surreal, dreamlike mood of the image. Graham's absorption of European trends was hardly limited to de Chirico, and though Surrealist imagery continued to influence him for decades, within a year of Iron Horse his work began to reflect a growing obsession with Picasso.

Oil on Canvas - Michael Rosenfeld Gallery

Harlequin in Gray (1928)
Artwork Images

Harlequin in Gray (1928)

Artwork description & Analysis: During the 1920s, Graham traveled frequently to Paris and absorbed the styles of its most progressive painters, turning eagerly from de Chirico to Picasso. Though Picasso had developed cubism almost twenty years earlier, Graham began his emulation of Picasso's Blue and Rose Periods, of which the Harlequin was a major figure. For Picasso, the Harlequin was a kind of alter-ego whom he painted numerous times between 1901 and 1905, and periodically for the rest of his career. In Graham's Harlequin in Gray, the artist clearly adopted the subject matter of Picasso but additionally employed some of the distinctive techniques that would characterize his own portraiture of the 1940s and 1950s. The heavily shadowed face of the Harlequin is more abstract than the Picasso characters who inspired it, for example, and Graham set the Harlequin against a sparse, almost monochromatic background interrupted by a single geometric shape, a feature common in his later work.

Oil on Canvas - The Phillips Collection

Blue Still Life (1931)
Artwork Images

Blue Still Life (1931)

Artwork description & Analysis: In the early 1930s, Graham's work continued to reveal the influence of Picasso through his preoccupation with cubism and the simplification of form and color. In Blue Still Life , Graham stopped short of total abstraction, but essentially eliminated depth and reduced his palette to a single tone. The image of the fish and the table upon which it sits is represented by a minimum of lines and interlocking geometric shapes. This work reflects a major shift away from the more realistic works of the 1920s, presaging his abstract work throughout the 1930s and early 1940s.

Oil on canvas - The Phillips Collection

Embrace (1932)
Artwork Images

Embrace (1932)

Artwork description & Analysis: Here, the interlocking shapes have been further simplified, but they are no longer hard-edged. Rather, their curves draw influence from Surrealism's biomorphic forms; further, the circles suggest eyes, and the title of the work seems to imply that it depicts two figures in an embrace. Even so, the canvas is highly abstract and completely two-dimensional. The heavier buildup of paint also prefigures the importance of material and surface in Abstract Expressionist painting.

Oil on canvas - The Phillips Collection

Rooftops (1943)
Artwork Images

Rooftops (1943)

Artwork description & Analysis: In this, Graham drew inspiration from an urban setting to create a cubist-influenced abstraction; the interconnected blocks of color show the clear influence of Picasso. Though the titular surfaces are discernable, Graham has flattened the picture plane and created no illusion of depth - an important signpost in the development of Abstract Expressionism. At the time, Graham was moving away from the pure abstraction that he practiced during the early 1940s, when he painted in a style similar to that of Arshile Gorky.

Oil on canvas - Seattle Art Museum



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John Graham Photo

Related Art and Artists

Madame Cézanne in a Red Dress (1888-1890)

Madame Cézanne in a Red Dress (1888-1890)

Artist: Paul Cézanne

Artwork description & Analysis: This is an example of the many portraits Cézanne painted of his mistress and eventual wife, Hortense Fiquet. Cézanne does not romanticize her form: the sitter's figure is rigidly imposing, almost soldier-like, her face bluntly plain and asymmetrical with only one ear visible. It seems that the sitter exists purely for compositional purposes, her dress in itself serving as an excuse for the artist to experiment with various tones of red, like a convenient palette. The stark geometrical accents dissect the canvas in both horizontal and vertical directions, thus creating the impression of a carefully arranged, monumental still life, as opposed to a portrait of a lifelong companion or "loved one."

Oil on canvas - The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Large Nude in a Red Armchair (1929)
Artwork Images

Large Nude in a Red Armchair (1929)

Artist: Pablo Picasso

Artwork description & Analysis: When Picasso's work came under the influence of the Surrealists in the late 1920s, his forms often took on melting, organic contours. This work was completed in May 1929, around the same time the Surrealists were preoccupied with the way in which ugly and disgusting imagery might provide a route into the unconscious. It was clearly intended to shock, and it may have been influenced by Salvador Dali - and Joan Miro. It is thought that the picture represents the former dancer Olga Koklova, whose relationship with Picasso was failing around this time.

Oil on canvas

Aviation: Evolution of Forms under Aerodynamic Limitations (1937)

Aviation: Evolution of Forms under Aerodynamic Limitations (1937)

Artist: Arshile Gorky

Artwork description & Analysis: During the Great Depression Gorky worked as a muralist for the Federal Art Projects/Works Progress Administration (FAP/WPA). Between 1935 and 1937, Gorky produced a ten panel large-scale mural cycle for Newark Airport. Of the original murals, only two still exist; the others were either destroyed or somehow disappeared. Gorky was one of the very few New Deal muralists to paint in an abstract language.

In this mural, Gorky shows the continuing influence of European Modernism. While clearly engaged with the Cubist vocabulary of Picasso and Braque, the brilliant colors, and mechanized forms of these murals are strongly indebted to Fernand Leger. Gorky has harmoniously brought together different strands of modernism, which he uses to celebrate modern aeronautics, flight, and speed. Here, Gorky successfully deploys the language of pure abstraction with biomorphism along with a more literal representation of the United State with flight paths relevant to Newark. The modern, abstract style of these brightly colored murals sparked controversy in the 1930s as the public prized American Scene realism. Each panel stirs within the viewer the excitement of the modern machine age and spectacle of air travel in the Depression era. Further, through the mural's public placement within Newark airport, Gorky successfully introduced modernist vocabulary to a greater, non-art viewing segment of society.

Oil on canvas - Newark Museum of Art, Newark, NJ

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