Morris Louis was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1912. His name was Morris Louis Bernstein but he dropped the Bernstein in the late 1930s. He studied art at the Maryland Institute of Fine and Applied Arts but he left school before finishing the program.
He went to New York in 1936. Louis helped with some workshops that helped artists use unusual tools, like spray guns, to create art. These workshops helped grow the Abstract Expressionist movement.
Louis didn’t stay in New York for long. In 1940 he moved back to Baltimore and began showing his work. A group of local artists liked his work and convinced him to teach them.
Louis moved to Washington, D.C. in 1952 and started teaching at the Washington Workshop Center of the Arts. He didn’t have many friends in the art world and didn’t travel much to learn about new styles of painting. While in D.C., Louis met artist Kenneth Noland. Noland took Louis to New York where he saw the work of many new artists. One artist, Helen Frankenthaler, really inspired Louis. This painting, Mountains and Sea, especially moved him. Frankenthaler had stained the canvas rather than just painting it. Louis would try this method when he returned to D.C.
Louis began a series of paintings that he called Veils. To create his Veils, Louis poured paint onto a canvas and then poured thin black paint over the colors. Check out this Veil painting.
When he had finished his Veil paintings, Louis didn’t know what to paint next. He wasn’t happy with anything he created and he destroyed about 300 paintings.
Finally, in 1960, Louis began painting another series, called Unfurleds. In these paintings, Louis painted stripes of bright color that began in the upper corners and met at the bottom center in a V-shape. This is a great example on an Unfurled painting.
Morris Louis created one more famous series of paintings, called Stripes. The Stripes paintings featured slightly overlapping stripes of bright colors that began part way down the canvas and ran off the bottom. Louis’ Stripe paintings are my favorites. Check out this one and this one.
Louis died in 1962.
Tomorrow: A Morris Louis project.
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