A protégé and close friend of Mark Tobey, Graves grew up in the Northwest and for many years made his home on an island in Puget Sound. Although he never received any formal artistic training (he didn't complete high school until age twenty-two), in 1932 he encountered Guy Anderson, a highly trained artist with whom he shared a studio. During the late 1930s Graves worked intermittently for the Federal Art Project and met Tobey, who became a friend and mentor and, along with experimental composer John Cage, helped nurture Graves's early interest in Oriental philosophy and religion. Protective of his solitude, Graves has lived mostly in remote rural areas, and uses the elements of nature as his subjects. Animals abound in his paintings and birds appear with special frequency, but towards a metaphorical rather than descriptive end. Shunning contact with contemporary industrial life, Graves in the 1960s painted abstractions based on the noises of the machine age with a degree of understanding possible only to one who cherishes quiet.
Virginia M. Mecklenburg Modern American Realism: The Sara Roby Foundation Collection (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press for the National Museum of American Art, 1987)