Morris Graves bigraphy, stories - American expressionist painter

Morris Graves : biography

August 28, 1910 - May 5, 2001

Morris Cole Graves (August 28, 1910 – May 5, 2001) was an American expressionist painter. Along with Guy Anderson, Kenneth Callahan, William Cumming, and Mark Tobey, he founded the Northwest School. Graves was also a mystic.


Category:20th-century American painters Category:Pacific Northwest artists Category:Artists from California Category:Artists from Washington (state) Category:People from Seattle, Washington Category:People from Humboldt County, California Category:1910 births Category:2001 deaths Category:Cornish College of the Arts faculty Category:People from Grant County, Oregon Category:Northwest School


Although he attended high school in 1932 in Beaumont, Texas at the urging of his aunt, Graves returned to the Northwest before actually graduating and never got his high school diploma. He spent much of his professional life in Seattle and La Conner, Washington, sharing a studio for a while with Guy Anderson. Graves' early work was in oils and focused on birds touched with strangeness, either blind, or wounded, or immobilized in webs of light.

In the early 1930s, Graves studied Zen Buddhism. In 1934, Graves built a small studio on family property in Edmonds, Washington, that burned to the ground in 1935, and with it, almost all of his work. His first one-man exhibition was in 1936 in Seattle's Art Museum (SAM). retrieved 2007-08-06 In May 1937, he bought on Fidalgo Island. In 1939, he began working on the WPA Federal Art Project, but only for a few months. It was there that he met Mark Tobey and became impressed with Tobey's calligraphic line. Later in the year, Graves went to the Virginia Islands and to Puerto Rico to paint.

In 1940, Graves began building a house, which he named The Rock, on his Fidalgo Island property, and befriended an architect, George Nakashima, who had recently visited Japan. He lived at The Rock with a succession of cats and dogs, all called Edith, in honor of poet Edith Sitwell.

In 1942, his paintings were part of the New York Museum of Modern Art's "Americas 1942" exhibit, bringing Graves national recognition.

In 1952 photographer Dody Weston Thompson used part of her Albert M. Bender grant to photo document the unique home and surroundings of Graves who she considered a close friend.

In 1954, Graves staged the first Northwest art "Happening", sending invitations to everyone on the Seattle Art Museum mailing list:

"You or your friends are not invited to the exhibition of Bouquet and Marsh paintings by the 8 best painters in the Northwest to be held on the afternoon and evening of the longest day of the year, the first day of summer, June 21, at Morris Graves' palace in exclusive Woodway Park."

In September 1954, Life Magazine did an article on "The Mystic Painters of the Northwest," featuring Graves, and including Guy Anderson, Kenneth Callahan, and Mark Tobey; this changed his life.

His mid-career works were influenced by East Asian philosophy and mysticism, which he used it as a way of approaching nature directly, avoiding theory. Graves adopted certain elements of Chinese and Japanese art, including the use of thin paper and ink drawing. His painted birds, pine trees, and waves. Graves works, such as "Blind Bird" often contain elements of Mark Tobey, who was inspired by Asian calligraphy. Graves switched from oils to gouaches, his bird became psychedelic, mystic, en route to transcendence. The paintings were bold, applied in a thick impasto with a palette knife, sometimes on coarse feed sacks. retrieved 2007-08-06

In the 1950s, Graves returned to oils, but also painted in watercolor and tempera. From 1954 through 1964, Graves lived in Ireland and sculpted.

Later years

Graves moved to Loleta, California, near Eureka in 1964 where he eventually had a home constructed that was designed by Ibsen Nelson. retrieved 2009-2-25 His later paintings were increasingly abstract, and while they retained their delicacy, the Asian influence was gone. In later years and especially at the end of his notable career, Graves returned to sculpture, originally created forty years earlier, and received critical acclaim for his "Instruments of a New Navigation," works inspired by NASA and space exploration. retrieved 2008-12-21 Morris Graves died the morning of May 5, 2001 at his home in Loleta, hours after suffering a stroke.


The Morris Graves Museum of Art in Eureka bears his name and contains a small collection of his works.

Early years

Born the sixth son of a Methodist family in Fox Valley, Oregon, his family moved to Seattle in 1911. He was a self-taught artist with natural understandings of color and line.

Graves dropped out of high school after his sophomore year and sailed on three American Mail Line ships with his brother Russell. Upon arriving in Japan, he wrote:

"There, I at once had the feeling that this was the right way to do everything. It was the acceptance of nature not the resistance to it. I had no sense that I was to be a painter, but I breathed a different air." retrieved 2007-08-06
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