Progression of Art
Still Life with Recorder and Cards
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 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
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
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
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
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