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Faces

1959 Morris Louis Born: Baltimore, Maryland 1912 Died: Washington, District of Columbia 1962 acrylic on canvas 911/4 x 136 in. (231.8 x 345.5 cm.) Smithsonian American Art Museum Museum purchase from the Vincent Melzac Collection through the Smithsonian Institution Collections Acquisition Program 1980.5.5 Not currently on view


Gallery Label

Faces creates a world of depth, movement, and beautiful colors hiding behind a shadowy membrane. Louis produced his enormous Veil paintings in a small, sunlit room of his house on Legation Street in Washington, D.C. He poured brilliant hues of diluted acrylic paint from one edge of the unprimed canvas, manipulating the streams as they flowed across the surface and sank into the fibers. A darker scrim cloaks these colors, leaving tantalizing remnants of orange, blue, and green.

The veil refers not only to the translucent layers of paint but to the texture of the canvas that melds with the colors, creating an illusion of diaphanous folds of cloth. In 1959, however, the "illusion" of anything was scorned by many in the art world who insisted that painting should be purely abstract and only about the act of painting. Powerful critics and gallery owners ignored the poetic titles and organic forms in Louis’s canvases. Instead, they celebrated his work because the washes of color revealed the properties of the paint and recorded the artist’s movements as he poured.

Exhibition Label, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2006

Keywords

Abstract

painting

paint - acrylic

fabric - canvas