Morris Louis Bernstein

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Morris Louis (Morris Louis Bernstein) (November 28, 1912 - September 7, 1962) was one of the many talented U.S. abstract expressionist painters to emerge in the fifties. From 1929 to 1933, he studied at the Maryland Institute of Fine and Applied Arts (now the Maryland Institute College of Art, or MICA) on a scholarship, but left shortly before completing the program. He worked at various odd jobs to support himself while painting and in 1935 served as president of the Baltimore Artists’ Association. From 1936 to 1940, Louis lived in New York, where he worked in the easel division of the WPA Federal Art Project. During this period, he knew Arshile Gorky, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Jack Tworkov. He also dropped his last name.

[edit] Color field painting

He returned to his native Baltimore in 1940 and taught privately. In 1948, he started to use Magna - oil based acrylic paints. In 1952, Louis moved to Washington, D.C. Living in Washington, D.C., somewhat apart from the New York scene and working almost in isolation. He and a group of artists that included Kenneth Noland were central to the development of Color Field painting. The basic point about Louis's work and that of other Color Field painters, sometimes known as the Washington Color School in contrast to most of the other new approaches of the late 1950s and early 1960s, is that they greatly simplified the idea of what constitutes the look of a finished painting. They continued in a tradition of painting exemplified by Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman, Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell, and Ad Reinhardt. Eliminating gestural, compositional drawing in favor of large areas of raw canvas, solid planes of thinned and fluid paint, utilizing an expressive and psychological use of flat, and intense color and allover, repetitive composition.

All of these artists were concerned with the classic problems of pictorial space and the flatness of the picture plane. In 1953, Louis and Noland visited Helen Frankenthaler’s New York studio, where they saw and were greatly impressed by her stain paintings especially Mountains and Sea (1952). Upon their return to Washington, Louis and Noland together experimented with various techniques of paint application. Louis characteristically applied extremely diluted, thinned paint to an unprimed, unstretched canvas, allowing it to flow over the inclined surface in effects sometimes suggestive of translucent color veils. The importance of Frankenthaler's example in Louis's development of this technique has been noted. However, even more so than Frankenthaler, Louis eliminated the brush gesture. Although his flat, thin pigment is at times modulated in billowing tonal waves. His "veil" paintings consist of bands of brilliant, curving color-shapes submerged in translucent washes through which they emerge principally at the edges. Although subdued, the resulting color is immensely rich. In another formula, the artist used long parallel strips of pure color arranged side by side in rainbow effects.

[edit] Late paintings and untimely death

Louis destroyed many of his paintings between 1955 and 1957. He resumed work on the Veils in 1958–59. These were followed by Florals and Columns (1960), Unfurleds (1960–61)—in which rivulets of more opaque, intense color flow from both sides of large white fields—and the Stripe paintings (1961–62). Louis died in Washington, D.C., on September 7, 1962. A memorial exhibition of his work was held at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, in 1963. Major Louis exhibitions were also organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in 1967 and the National Collection of Fine Arts, Washington, D.C., in 1976.

[edit] See also

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Morris Louis Bernstein

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