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Artists Morris Louis
Morris Louis Photo

Morris Louis

American Painter

Movement: Color Field Painting

Born: November 28, 1912 - Baltimore, Maryland

Died: September 7, 1962 - Washington D.C.

Morris Louis Timeline

Quotes

"The more I paint the more I'm aware of a difference in my approach and others. Am distrustful of over-simplifications but nonetheless think that there is nothing very new in any period of art: what is true is that it is only something new for the painter & that this thin edge is what matters."
Morris Louis
"I suspect it is possible to relate every bit of abs. exp. to other art in a breakdown. It comes out new and different when art history is submerged and making a painting is a simple experience not precisely like any the artist had before."
Morris Louis

"As to the painting, I know that I'd have had a gallery long ago had it been in me to popularize my style. However, that is not the case, and so I have to play for big stakes in hopes that some highly reputable joint will handle the stuff some day."

Synopsis

Morris Louis became one of the leading figures of Color Field painting, along with his contemporaries Kenneth Noland and Helen Frankenthaler. In his short yet prolific career, most of which he spent in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., Louis continually experimented with method and medium, manipulating large canvases in creative ways to control the flow and stain of his acrylic paints. His mature style, characterized by layered veils and rivulets of poured acrylic paint on untreated canvases, makes his paintings some of the most iconic works of Color Field Painting.

Key Ideas

In addition to using thinned acrylic paint to stain the weave of his canvas, as colleagues like Helen Frankenthaler and Jules Olitski also did, Louis went so far as to manipulate the canvas itself, folding and bending it to shape the flow of the paint. This innovation allowed him to eliminate his own touch upon the canvas, while still giving him a way to emphasize his medium's inherent fluidity and saturated colors.
Louis's paintings of the 1950s established a vital link between Abstract Expressionism and Color Field Painting. He rejected the gestural abstraction of action painters like Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline, while also placing more emphasis on tonal relations and free-flowing color.
Rather than live in New York City as many of his contemporaries did, Louis based his career in his native Maryland and nearby Washington, D.C. In this way he expanded the geographical boundaries of the contemporary art world in America and brought attention to an offshoot of Color Field Painting later termed the Washington Color School.

Biography

Morris Louis Photo

Childhood

Morris Louis Bernstein was one of four sons born into a middle-class Jewish family in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1912. His parents, Louis and Cecelia (Luckman) Bernstein, were Russian immigrants. Louis attended public schools in Baltimore and developed an early interest in art. At the age of 15, despite his parents' wishes he decided not to pursue medical studies and instead accepted a scholarship to the Maryland Institute of Fine and Applied Arts in 1927. During these early years as an artist, he was influenced by the paintings of Paul Cézanne and by visits to the Cone Collection of modern European art in Baltimore.

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Morris Louis Biography Continues

Important Art by Morris Louis

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

Charred Journal: Firewritten V (1951)
Artwork Images

Charred Journal: Firewritten V (1951)

Artwork description & Analysis: Charred Journal: Firewritten V is executed in a traditional Abstract Expressionist style, and its gestural brushwork and all-over composition are influenced by Jackson Pollock's action painting. Although it measures only about two feet wide, this work manages to achieve a remarkable sense of dynamism within a relatively compact space. Its title alludes to the Nazi book burnings in which supposedly subversive literature was destroyed in the 1930s; its pale markings against a raw, dark background evoke a written language set against a threatening void. This canvas predates Louis's exposure to Helen Frankenthaler's stain paintings in 1954, after which he began his mature Color Field work.

Acrylic resin (Magna) on canvas - The Jewish Museum, New York

Breaking Hue (1954)
Artwork Images

Breaking Hue (1954)

Artwork description & Analysis: The Veil series is named for its thin overlapping "veils" of acrylic Magna paint. This canvas is one of Louis's earliest experimentations with applying thin, quick-drying washes of color to unprimed canvas. The title may evoke the sense of shifting color and light that we are encouraged to perceive in this painting. It is difficult to discern where one color ends and another begins, since, in an effect unique to Magna, the underlying layers are partially dissolved by the successive pours of color, creating a diffused, melting appearance. By permitting this new kind of paint to create unpredictable effects, Louis allowed chance to play a larger role in his art: the medium itself dictated the final result. This was a way of rethinking the artist's degree of control over his own work. Although Breaking Hue does not make any visual reference to the physical world, it is an object with a life of its own.

Acrylic resin (Magna) on canvas - Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA

Dalet Kaf (1959)
Artwork Images

Dalet Kaf (1959)

Artwork description & Analysis: Dalet Kaf is an example of Louis's later Veil paintings. In order to work within the small confines of his studio, Louis would staple canvas to the walls. Here, the sheer washes of paint cascade down the surface of the canvas, with the brighter colors muted by the "veils" of black that frame the composition. With this inventive method, Louis enlisted gravity as one of his artistic tools, allowing it to aid and shape the flow of the paint. By making his process visible, Louis emphasized the medium's inherent fluidity rather than his own authority over it. The paint itself, rather than representational content or the artist's inner psyche, has become the subject of this work.

Acrylic resin (Magna) on canvas - Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Fort Worth, Texas

More Morris Louis Artwork and Analysis:



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Influences and Connections

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

Artists

Joan MiróJoan Miró
Arshile GorkyArshile Gorky
Jackson PollockJackson Pollock
Helen FrankenthalerHelen Frankenthaler

Personal Contacts

Kenneth NolandKenneth Noland
Clement GreenbergClement Greenberg
Jack TworkovJack Tworkov

Movements

Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism
Post-Painterly AbstractionPost-Painterly Abstraction
Washington Color SchoolWashington Color School

Influences on Artist
Morris Louis
Morris Louis
Years Worked: 1932 - 1962
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Frank StellaFrank Stella
Ellsworth KellyEllsworth Kelly

Personal Contacts

Kenneth NolandKenneth Noland
Clement GreenbergClement Greenberg
Michael FriedMichael Fried

Movements

Color Field PaintingColor Field Painting
Post-Painterly AbstractionPost-Painterly Abstraction
Washington Color SchoolWashington Color School
MinimalismMinimalism

Useful Resources on Morris Louis

Videos

Books

Websites

Articles

The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.

biography

Morris Louis

By Michael Fried

paintings

Morris Louis Recomended resource

By John Elderfield

Color as Field: American Painting 1950-1975

By John Elderfield

More Interesting Books about Morris Louis
When It Pours: Works by Helen Frankenthaler and Morris Louis Recomended resource

By Peter Schjeldahl
The New Yorker
September 22, 2014

Color, Chemistry and Creativity

By Karen Rosenberg
The New York Times
September 18, 2014

Morris Louis Unveiled

By Karen Wilkin
The Wall Street Journal
October 15, 2013

Morris Louis: A Painter of a Different Stripe Recomended resource

By Blake Gopnik
The Washington Post
November 12, 2006

More Interesting Articles about Morris Louis
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Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

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