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Morris Louis

Morris Louis was born in Baltimore in 1912 and graduated from the Maryland Institute of Fine Arts in 1932. But it was not until his Veil paintings were exhibited in 1959 that he received the acclaim that would place him among the most important painters of his time. Clement Greenberg, noted modernist era art critic who was first to exhibit Louis’s work in New York, astutely described the magnitude of Louis’s newfound technique:

The crucial revelation he got from Pollock and Frankenthaler had to do with facture as much as anything else. The more closely color could be identified with its ground, the freer would it be from the interference of tactile associations; the way to achieve this closer identification was by adapting water-color technique to oil and using thin paint on an absorbent surface. Louis spills his paint on unsized and unprimed cotton duck canvas, leaving the pigment almost everywhere thin enough, no matter how many different veils of it are superimposed, for the eye to sense the threadedness and wovenness of the fabric underneath. But underneath is the wrong word. The fabric, being soaked in paint rather than merely covered by it, becomes paint in itself, color in itself, like a dyed cloth: the threadedness and wovenness are in the color. The effect conveys a sense not only of color as somehow disembodied, and therefore more purely optical, but also of color as a thing that opens and expands the picture plane.

Louis’s close friend, the painter Charles Schucker, described his technique as stemming from a natural facility or talent, a feeling for paint and for color in relation to the surfaces.

Louis went on to produce nearly one hundred more paintings in the Veil series. He later produced two more major series, the Unfurleds and the Stripes, again numbering more than one hundred in each. The fact that Louis worked in series stemmed from his enormous drive and focus as an artist, best described again, by Schucker:

When he’d get interested in something he’d practically wear it out. He had this ability to select something and stick to it. For example, when he was trying to make one figure sit in a space, he’d do twenty or thirty versions with hardly any difference between them.

It is certain that Louis would have gone on to produce many more significant bodies of work had his life not been cut short by lung cancer. Louis died in 1962 at the age of 49.

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