Morris Louis

(Baltimore, Maryland, 1912 - 1962, Washington, D.C., United States)

North America, American

Morris Louis Bernstein won a scholarship to study at the Maryland Institute of Fine and Applied Art at the age of fifteen. Graduating in 1932, during the height of the Depression, Louis eventually found steady employment with the Federal Art Project of the Works Project Administration, first in Baltimore in 1934, and then again in New York City, where he moved in 1936. While in New York, Louis stopped using the last name Bernstein. In 1951, having been primarily a figurative painter, Louis became interested in abstract painting. The following year, he moved to Washington, D.C., where he began teaching at the Workshop Center of the Arts and befriended fellow instructor Kenneth Noland. In 1953, Louis traveled to New York where he met art critic Clement Greenberg, saw works by Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline and visited Helen Frankenthaler’s studio. Frankenthaler’s pioneering method of pouring paint onto an unprimed canvas and manipulating the paint as it was absorbed, known as staining, altered his view of painting. (He famously described Frankenthaler as “the bridge between Pollock and what was possible.”) When he returned home, Louis destroyed his work from earlier in the year and began developing new methods of applying thinned acrylic paint to unprimed canvas. By June 1954, Louis had completed sixteen paintings using this new technique. These works came to be called the Veil series because their bright bands of color were often covered over by a “veil” of diluted black paint. In the winter of 1957-1958, Louis began his second Veil series, a work from which (‘Untitled’, 1958) is included in the collection of the Akron Art Museum. Although Louis’s career was cut short when he died of lung cancer at age forty-nine, he is widely regarded as one of the leading color field painters. Major exhibitions of his work have been held by the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts.

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