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Photo © The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, by Elie Posner

Morris Louis

American, 1912–1962



Acrylic on canvas, 261 x 472 cm
Gift of the artist's widow, Marcella (Louis) Brenner, Chevy Chase, Maryland, through the America-Israel Cultural Foundation

Morris Louis was a founding member of the Washington Color School movement, a group of artists known for their use of bright, modern colors and washes of synthetic paint.

After a visit to New York in April 1953 where they saw the recent paintings of Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland began to similarly stain raw canvases with diluted pigment, rather than applying it with a brush. Experimenting with different painting techniques and media, compositional formats and canvas sizes, Louis produced an astonishingly large body of work. His paintings are divided into three basic series: the Veils (1954–60), the Unfurleds (summer 1960 – winter 1961), and the Stripes (winter 1961– summer 1962).

Iota is one of about 150 Unfurleds, generally created on mural-size canvases. In all of them, irregular rivulets of bold multicolored pigment flow diagonally down towards the lower center of the canvas, but rarely meet; a large area of raw, unembellished canvas remains at the center. Heavily diluted, the poured colors soak into the canvas, becoming one with the surface and maintaining the flatness of the modern picture plane. Color retains its optical purity and there is no sense of narrative, image, or perspectival space as in traditional painting. Eschewing illusionistic references, the artist forces the viewer to focus solely on the painting’s formal elements – color, size, and shape – and the vibrant, light-filled space they inhabit.

Adina Kamien

Artists in Action

USA Artists Episode 04 - The New Abstraction-Morris Louis + Kenneth Noland

Morris Louis standing in front of Untitled, ca. 1956. Morris Louis and Morris Louis Estate papers, circa 1910s-2007. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. https://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/items/detail/morris-louis-standing-front-untitled-14622

Morris Louis Bernstein, known professionally as Morris Louis, was an American painter. During the 1950s he became one of the earliest exponents of Color Field painting.