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Artists John Graham
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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

Quotes

"Abstract painting is the highest and most difficult form of painting because it requires of the artist the ability to take full stock of reality and the ability to make a departure from it."
John Graham
"Starting a painting is starting an argument in terms of canvas and paint."
John Graham
"Graham was very important and he discovered Pollock. I make that very clear. It wasn't anybody else, you know."
Willem de Kooning

Synopsis

John Graham was a Russian-born painter whose work as an organizer and writer helped bring widespread recognition to the New York School. His style was influenced by his acquaintances among the European avant-garde. He also embraced Surrealism, especially the dreamlike mystery and strange juxtaposition of objects characteristic of Giorgio de Chirico, and later the flattened forms and multiple vantage points of Cubism, drawing most heavily from the compositions of Pablo Picasso. Graham did not develop a signature style until he rejected modernism in the early 1940s; for the remaining 20 years of his career, Graham drew inspiration from Renaissance art and became devoted to painting realistic - though highly expressive - portraits of women. However, Graham's legacy within the New York School extends beyond his work as a painter. His lasting influence was in transmitting progressive ideas to younger artists in his circle and in his close friendship and role as mentor to painters like Willem de Kooning. As an early proponent of Surrealist techniques, like automatic writing, and his use of analytic Cubism's reduction of images to two-dimensional forms, his influence laid the groundwork for the development of Abstract Expressionism.

Key Ideas

Graham traveled to Europe frequently and was personally associated with members of the French avant-garde between the World Wars; he helped to spread Surrealist techniques, like automatic writing, to young American painters, including Stuart Davis and Arshile Gorky. Additionally, Graham brought back copies of Parisian journals like Cahiers d'Art, which provided American artists with their first glimpse of the groundbreaking Cubist work of their European contemporaries.
Graham was interested in African art and its connection to modern painting, especially Cubism. Graham believed that so-called "primitive" art - especially African sculpture -was free from the traditional constraints of Western art history, and through its abstraction of the forms of the natural world it revealed the "inner truth" of its subject. Graham thought that abstract painting could achieve the same expressive effect, and believed that the work of Pablo Picasso best embodied this concept; he published an influential essay called "Primitive Art and Picasso" articulating this belief in 1937.
Graham organized a major exhibition in 1942 at New York's McMillen Gallery called French and American Painters; this landmark show provided the first public exposure for Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, who became the most influential painters of the New York School.
Graham's own painting was overshadowed by his work as an organizer and as a writer. His 1937 work System and Dialectics of Art defined his theory on abstract painting and proved enormously influential on the budding painters of the New York School.

Biography

John Graham Photo

Early Life

John Graham was born Ivan Gratianovich Dombrowsky in Kiev, Ukraine, to parents of minor Polish nobility. The date of his birth is disputed, though usually cited as anywhere between 1886 and 1888. After studying law, he became a cavalry officer during the First World War, winning a St. George's Cross for bravery. After the war, he supported the tsarist White Army and was consequently imprisoned by the victorious Reds. Upon his release in 1920, he immigrated to the United States with his wife and child.

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John Graham Biography Continues

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
John Graham
Interactive chart with John Graham's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart

Artists

André DerainAndré Derain
Paul CézannePaul Cézanne
Pablo PicassoPablo Picasso
Georges BraqueGeorges Braque
Giorgio de ChiricoGiorgio de Chirico

Personal Contacts

John SloanJohn Sloan
Stuart DavisStuart Davis
Arshile GorkyArshile Gorky

Movements

SurrealismSurrealism
FauvismFauvism
Primitivism in ArtPrimitivism in Art
CubismCubism

Influences on Artist
John Graham
John Graham
Years Worked: Years
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Adolph GottliebAdolph Gottlieb
Willem de KooningWillem de Kooning
Jackson PollockJackson Pollock
John CurrinJohn Currin

Personal Contacts

Harold RosenbergHarold Rosenberg
David SmithDavid Smith
Stuart DavisStuart Davis
Arshile GorkyArshile Gorky

Movements

Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism
MinimalismMinimalism

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Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

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