|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|Born in Baltimore with the name of Morris Bernstein, Morris Louis,
working from Washington DC, became a major figure in the mid
20th-century contemporary art scene on the East Coast. He was
also a distinguished teacher. Louis is known for his drip
paintings, the pouring of thinned acrylic paint onto unprimed or
partially primed canvases. His later paintings had irregular
stripes of bright colour, often overlapping and merging. He
deliberately disassociated himself from the painterly-ness of the
loaded brush of the abstract expressionists and pursuing his methods of
using thinned paint was, along with Helen Frankenthaller, one of the
key figures in the movement called Color Field painting. |
parents were immigrants from Russia, and Morris Louis was the third of
their four sons. He attended public school in Baltimore and then
went on to Gwynns Falls Junior High School, and Baltimore City
College. In a state competition that he entered at the age of
fifteen, Louis won a four-year scholarship to the Maryland Institute of
Fine and Applied Arts. There he was a slightly better than
average student, gaining a diploma in Fine Art in June 1932.
1933 and 1936, Louis shared studios in a office building in Baltimore
and held a variety of odd jobs to support himself including peeling
potatoes in an Italian restaurant, folding clothes in a laundry, mowing
lawns, and assisting a pharmacist. Between January and June of 1934,
Louis, using the name Maurice Bernstein, was one of two assistants who
worked under Sam Swerdloff on a Baltimore, Maryland mural, The History of the Written Word. The work was placed in the library of Hampstead Hill School.
In 1935 Louis was elected president of the Baltimore Artist's Union, which was founded in 1934.
in 1937 Morris Louis moved to New York City. Until he found his
own accommodation, he stayed with a friend, Chet LaMore, and in return
for her hospitality, he painted her floor. He participated in the
Mural Workshop of David Siqueiros, Mexican Social Realist, and students
experimented with new techniques and materials.
supported himself as a part-time window decorator and also received a
small allowance from his family. He became friendly with the
paint manufacturer, Leonard Bocour, who gave leftover paint to Louis
and other artists.
In March 1937 he and a group of painters
including Mervin Jules and Herman Maril, exhibited together at the
A.C.A Gallery in New York. The next year, on October 27th, Louis
was issued a new social security number under his new adopted name so
that Morris Bernstein was now Morris Louis. He registered with
the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and became a part of the WPA
Federal Arts Project, earning a stipend as a painter and also as a
member of the Steering Committee of the Easel Project. In 1939
Louis exhibited Broken Bridge at the WPA Pavilion of the New York World's Fair.
During this period Louis lived with a young woman who was an art teacher also employed by the WPA.
1943 and 1947, Louis, who had not been drafted into the military,
returned to Baltimore. He lived with his parents, relied on
financial support from his brothers, and used the family basement as
his studio. On July 4th, 1947, he married Marcella Siegal, and
they moved to her two-room apartment in Silver Springs, Maryland, a
suburb of Washington. They converted the bedroom into his studio
and used the other room for living, eating and sleeping. In 1948
Louis exhibited a gouache in the "Maryland Artists, 16th Annual
Exhibition" at the Baltimore Museum of Art. He also began using
Magna, an acrylic resin paint manufactured by Leonard Bocour. It
became the only paint Louis used for the remainder of his career.
the next years, he exhibited in the exhibitions of the Maryland Artists
and beginning 1951, commuted to Baltimore three days a week to teach
art classes. In 1952 Louis and his wife purchased a home in
Washington DC and converted the dining room into the studio that he
used for the remainder of his life.
Jacob Kainen, a Washington
artist, helped Louis obtain a teaching position at the Washington
Workshop Centre of the Arts, which was founded in 1945 by Leon and Ida
Berkowitz. Louis taught two adult painting classes each week and
became friends with abstract painter Kenneth Noland, also an instructor
at the workshop. In 1953 Louis taught one semester at Howard
University, and continued to teach private students in Baltimore and
Washington in addition to his classes at the Washington Workshop.
and Noland went to New York in April where Noland introduced Louis to
Clement Greenberg, Charles Egan, Kline, Margret Marshall and Leon and
Ida Berkowitz. They also visited Helen Frankenthaler's studio and
were particularly impressed by her Mountains and Sea poured
stain painting. Louis had his first one-man show the following
week, at the Workshop Art Centre Gallery. On January 5, 1954,
Greenberg visited Louis and Noland to select work for the exhibition
"Emerging Talent" that was organized for the Kootz Gallery in New York
and opened on January 11th. Greenberg choose three of Louis's
The next year in April, Greenberg visited Louis in
Washington DC and was not impressed with his recent work. He
encouraged him to go to New York more often to understand better the
weakness of his paintings, which were similar to much work being
exhibited at the time. In May, 1957 Louis was included in a New
York group show at the Leo Castelli Gallery, and in November, with the
help of Greenberg, had a one-man New York exhibition at the Martha
Determined to follow a new direction, Morris
Louis destroyed most of his paintings from 1955,1956 and 1957, and only
one survived, Longitude. For the next few years, he
maintained a relatively heavy exhibition schedule with venues including
the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Osaka International Festival in Japan,
and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
In March, 1959
Louis went to New York, likely to attend the opening of French and
Company's new Contemporary Department, for which Greenberg served as
artistic advisor. Louis had been selected for their second
exhibition and the opening exhibition was a show of paintings by
Barnett Newman. Louis was already interested in Newman's
work. Leonard Bocour who introduced them to one another was
surprised that they had not meet before, because Louis had spoken to
him, about Newman, with admiration and apparent familiarity.
exhibition opened at French and Company in the second week of April,
with twenty-three Veil paintings by Louis, selected by Greenberg.
A viewer, William Rubin, was so moved by the show that he brought the
work to the attention of his brother, the great art dealer, Lawrence
Rubin. In March 1960, Louis had his second one-man exhibition at
French and Company, and again selections were made by Clement
Greenberg. He also organized an exhibition of Louis's work for
the Bennington College in October and manifested his advocacy of
Louis's work in an essay "Louis and Noland", which appeared in the May
issue of Art International. In the January issue William Rubin also wrote favorably of Louis.
May, 1960 Louis exhibited in Paris at the Galerie Neufville in which
Lawrence Rubin was a partner, and in September Louis signed a contract
with Rubin permitting the dealer to buy paintings and arrange
exhibitions in Europe. Louis's paintings were also exhibited in
other European cities, including London at the Institute of
Contemporary Art, Milan at the Galeria dell'Ariete and Rome at the
Rome-New York Art Foundation. In April Louis received sixteen
gallons of paint that Bocour had mixed especially for him and Noland.
Bocour's mix was 50% Acryloid F-10 and 50% turpentine eliminating the
beeswax binder that previously was used to keep the pigment in
suspension. The new consistency was more fluid and was more
amenable to Louis's requirements.
French and Company closed
down its Contemporary Department, after the spring exhibition.
Andre Emmerich became Louis's dealer in the United States. By
1961 Louis's improved financial position enabled him to take advantage
of sculptor David Smith's advice to keep large quantities of materials
at hand. Louis went to New York 10 times that year, in
conjunction with his first one-man show at the Andre Emmerich Gallery,
and exhibited ten stripe paintings. Other exhibitions that year
took place at Galeria Neufville in Paris, two group shows in London,
and a group show at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.
April 1962 Louis made his last visit to New York and went to a one-man
exhibition of Kenneth Noland's work at the Andre Emmerich
Gallery. On July 1st he was diagnosed with lung cancer, and four
days later had surgery to remove his left lung. Louis was
operated on to remove his left lung. Further treatment left him
to weak to continue painting.
He died at his home in Washington DC on September 7, 1962 and was
buried in Adas Israel Cemetery in Washington D.C. A scheduled
exhibition of his paintings opened at the Andre Emmerich gallery on
October the 16th.
The Bernard Jacobson Gallery
Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California, who credits Time Magazine, April 21, 1967
|** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at registrar@AskART.com.|
Morris Louis is also mentioned in these AskART essays: