American, November 28, 1912–September 7, 1962
"[...] Louis discovered that the ambitious abstract painter could no longer safely take anything for granted in the making of a picture, not the shape of its support, not the nature of its surface, not the nature of its paint covering, not the implement with which he applied the paint, and not the way in which he applied it. In the thinness of the paint and in the absorbant surface [...] Louis found his way to a new integrity of color." Clement Greenberg, renowed 20th century art critic

American artist Morris Louis was born in Baltimore on November 28, 1912. His name was actually Morris Louis Bernstein but he had it legally changed in 1938. From 1929 to 1933, He studied at the Maryland Institute of Fine and Applied Arts. He worked at various jobs to support himself while painting and in 1935 served as President of the Baltimore artists' Association. From 1936 - 1940, Morris Louis lived in New York, where he worked in the easel division of the WPA (Works Progress Administration) Federal Art Project. During this period he met Arshile Gorky, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Jack Tworkov and became acquainted with the use of commercial enamel paints. Louis frequently visited MOMA which living in New York.

 

In 1948, he returned to Baltimore, where he taught privately. In 1948, he started to use Magna acrylic paints. In 1952, Louis moved to Washington, DC where he taught at the Washington Worshop Center of the Arts. Here he met fellow instructor Kenneth Noland, who became a close friend. Louis had his first solo exhibition at the Workshop Center Art Gallery in 1953.

 

The direction of Louis's work changed after he and Noland visited Helen Frankenthaler's New York studio. They were quite impressed with Frankenthaler's technique of 'staining' very thin pigment on to unprimed canvas and upon their return to Washington, they experimented together with various techniques of paint application. In 1954, Louis produced his mature Veils paintings, which were characterized by overlapping, superimposed layers of transparent color poured onto and stained onto canvas. His first solo exhibition in New York was held at the Martha Jackson Gallery in 1957. He destroyed many of the paintings in this show but resumed work on the Veils in 1958-59. He later produced his series entitled Florals and Columns (1960), Unfurleds (1960-61), and his Stripe paintings (1961-62).

 

Louis died of lung cancer, at the age of 49, 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 the Arts, Boston (1967), the National Collection of the Arts, Washington, D.C. (1976), M.O.M.A., New York (1987), the Münster Museum and the Musée de Grenoble (1996).

 

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