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Morris Louis: Making Faces
July 20, 2009

Morris Louis

Faces by Morris Louis

The son of a Russian immigrant, abstract painter Morris Louis grew up in Baltimore. As an adult, Louis lived in Silver Spring, Maryland, and in Washington, D.C., where, in a small bungalow on Legation Street, NW, he turned his dining room into a studio. Some of his pictures were larger than the room itself, and he had to work on folded canvas. When Louis died before his fiftieth birthday in 1962, six hundred paintings were found rolled up. All of them were quite large, and very few were titled.

So what to make of Faces, then? The wall label cites that as the name of the painting. But it seems unlikely Morris Louis gave that title to the painting. Clement Greenberg, critic and staunch supporter of Louis's work, probably named the painting and gave the title "Veil" to the series.

Jackson Pollock sometimes titled his works with numbers. This system can be confusing, especially as there is more than one One. Titles are useful in that they can provide an entry into what the artist is thinking or feeling, what he or she associates with the work. In Louis's case, however, I'm not sure if the title adds to my understanding and appreciation of it, or if it has led me in a direction that was not the artist's intention. In Louis's art, you can see glimpses or fragments of the world around you. What if instead of Faces, the painting were named Cave or Autobiography ? It would still have the power to draw me to it from across the room, but would my thoughts about the work have been the same?

What associations does the work conjure for you?

See more works by Morris Louis in the museum's collection.

Posted by Howard on July 20, 2009 in American Art Here


Morris Louis must have lived under a veil. Son of a Russian immigrant, living in a bungalow... How did he afford the time and the supplies to make all these paintings that were not sold to pay his bills? No room for people in his small bungalow filled with paintings. Could I move that curtain aside and look behind it, what, who would I find? This could be a self portrait of a sad life.

I find Louis' Untitled from 1956 to be the most compelling, personally. I'd like to see it in its full size, to experience it fully. I have to wonder if it's oriented in the direction Louis intended it to be, but the enormous dark mass on the right center (as it's pictured) really sucks me in, despite my desire to flit around to the brighter colors.

Macy, thank you for your comment about Morris Louis. It gave me a lot to think about. I know that his life was short and that he struggled, but I don't know if it was all sad. Sadness, yes. But some of his colors are just too marvelous to be labeled as sad. What, indeed, would we find if we were able to part the curtain a bit? Thank you for opening my eyes to that possibility.

I find it hard to see a face in this painting. Instead, I see, on the left, a shadow of someone's head (with hair sticking up, is s/he afraid?), possibly facing a cave.

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