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Morris Graves (American, 1910-2001)


Birth Place: Fox (Grant county, Oregon, United States)

Morris Graves (1910 – 2001) was an early Modernist American painter from the Pacific Northwest whose work explores the metaphysical nature of reality and spiritual consciousness. Important during his lifetime, he is currently being widely reconsidered. At time of printing, LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) is exhibiting a show on the artists work, “Morris Graves: The Nature of Things.” Tied most closely to the fellow Seattle painter Mark Tobey, both artists held similar philosophical beliefs and preferred to work primarily with ink, watercolor or tempera on paper, rather than canvas. A 1953 article in Life magazine cemented Grave’s reputation as a major figure of the newly influential ‘Northwest School’ of artists. As a Seattle teenager, with his parents blessing, Graves dropped out of high-school and joined a merchant ship bound for Japan. Forever after deeply influenced by the Japanese aesthetic, he started incorporating elements of Asian design and philosophy into his work. By the 1930’s his paintings are quiet meditative canvases characterized by a personal iconography of ethereal flowers, vessels and birds. In his paintings, he used the muted tones of the Northwest environment yet captured quietly powerful glimpses of spiritual insight and illumination. His sculptural work has the same shamanistic quality, the distillation of a moment of enlightenment - a spiritual universe glimpsed fleetingly and captured like lightening in a milky bottle. Success came early to Morris Graves and in 1936 the Seattle Art Museum offered him his first solo show. Six years later, his work was included in the group show “Americans 1942: 18 Artists from 9 States” at the Museum of Modern Art. MOMA then purchased 11 pieces for their permanent collection, and other national institutions and private collectors soon followed. Fairly reclusive, by the 1940’s the artist had built his own house he nicknamed “The Rock” on the remote and rural Fidalgo Island, an hour north of Seattle. Living alone, Morris could meditate and work without interruption. Morris did enjoy traveling with close friends and in the late 50’s, or early 60’s, Morris joined friends in Ireland at a rustic 18th century manor house outside Dublin. Troubled by the growing global anxiety over the post WWII cold war era, and fascinated with his access to the clarity of the Irish night-sky he was inspired to start a new series - Instruments for a New Navigation, a collection of bronze, glass, and stone sculptures. With these works, Graves seems to have manifested a type of talismanic navigational device to help guide mankind’s uncharted journey thru the uncharted territory of the space-race era.

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