Morris Louis


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(b Baltimore, 28 Nov. 1912; d Washington, DC, 7 Sept. 1962).

American painter, a major pioneer of the movement from Abstract Expressionism to Colour Stain Painting (see Colour Field Painting). Almost all his career was spent first in Baltimore and then from 1947 in the Washington area. He isolated himself from the New York art world, concentrating on his own experiments and supporting himself by teaching. However, it was a visit to New York in 1953 with Kenneth Noland that led to the breakthrough in his art. He and Noland went to Helen Frankenthaler's studio, where they were immensely impressed by her painting Mountains and Sea, and Louis immediately began experimenting with her technique of applying liquid paint to unprimed canvas, allowing it to flow over and soak into the canvas so that it acted as a stain and not as an overlaid surface. He was secretive about his technical methods and it is uncertain how he achieved his control over the flow of colour, but towards the end of his life he suffered from severe back problems caused by his constant bending and stooping over the canvas. Whatever his methods, the effect was to create suave and radiant flushes of colour, with no sense of brush gesture or hint of figuration. His method was exacting, allowing no possibility for alteration or modification. For this reason, perhaps, he destroyed much of his work of this period. Louis painted various series of pictures in his new technique, the first of which was Veils (1954; he did another series in 1957–60). The other major series were Florals (1959–60), Unfurleds (1960–1), and Stripes (1961–2). The Veils consist of subtly billowing and overlapping shapes filling almost the entire canvas, but his development after that was towards rivulets of colour arranged in rainbow-like bands, often on a predominantly bare canvas. It was not until 1959 that his career began to take off and he had little time to enjoy his success before dying of lung cancer. However, his reputation now stands very high and he has had enormous influence on the development of Colour Stain Painting.

Subjects: Art.

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