Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 2

Beautiful Graves Birds

Mitchell Harper
One of the most well known and iconic artists of the northwest, Morris Graves was born to a
Methodist family in Oregon, where he dropped out of high school to travel the world. Japan offered an
especially important insight, 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. He also traveled to the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, and at the time of the
creation of this painting he had recently returned. He was also busy constructing his new house known
as The Rock, meant to be an escape from the increasingly metropolitan Seattle. WWII had also
broken out at this time, and as stated on the exhibit website, If there was any hope that the world could
survive the threat of annihilation, Graves seemed to say, it was found here, gleaned from the closely
observed cycle of life. To gain perspective this cycle, I will analyze two gorgeous, colorful birds
indicative of his signature style.
The first piece worth examining is Dove of the Inner Eye. Painted in 1941, this is a ~2' x 3'
landscape done in opaque watercolor on canvas. In the corners we see the bare paper without treatment,
with our scene veiled lightly in blue with an inner yellow halo. For most of the scene, we see red has
been applied although the application is not complete as there are portions within the scene proper
where the bare paper is still slightly visible. We see though that the lines and swirls of red were most
definitely applied at the base. This creates a confusing and geometric sea and the sweeping strokes near
the top corner suggest a mountain springing from the medium. Trapped in the middle layer are our
protagonist and antagonist: the serpent in greyscale and the dove which moves from dark blue/black to
pristine white where it is lit. Over these we have a web of white and blue lines which seem to
crystallize the piece. The whites rolling down the mountain cloud the dove's vision to the snake
accented with green.
The first thing that strikes me is that there's a certain topology about the fractured landscape: the
white outlines in the upper left quadrant of the piece look like a mountain range, and the dove seems to
be sitting in a valley between this range and the larger volcano in the upper right quadrant. This also
makes physical sense if you interpret the thickest white haze as smoke emanating from a crater.
Following this valley back toward the left edge of the piece, I see a perspective which makes this
certain valley seem very long, or alternatively like this is the edge of the world. Through the haze the
next interesting feature concerns how the dove is being lit. Doves are normally fully white, so either we
have a black dove or there is little light illuminating the side facing the viewer. The latter is the
interpretation I'll take. The light seems to be coming from beyond the dove and above, and the dove's
upward gaze suggests it is moving toward (or at least examining) this source. I would say the dove, the
purity of the artist's inner eye, is moving through a treacherous world in search of some pure truth.
There is no solace in this place though as a hungry snake lurks in the hills at the foreground waiting to
strike out at this out of place traveler. I see this as a grand allegory for the soul of the tortured artist. I
am transfixed by the beauty and interplay of the colors and lines, however I despair for the dove which
has no hope in this place.
While the grand landscape is exhilarating, there are simpler works that showed another side to
this master. The most expensive piece in an exhibition at Seattle ArtResource, priced at $35,000, was a
gorgeous Graves phoenix chick in gouache on paper. As seen in many of his pieces I've seen, much of
the 9.5 by 14 paper received no treatment, giving the piece a raw tone. A wide band of soothing pink
with dabs of fuchsia provided the only background. Surrounding the chick, which was centered in the
piece, were wisps of white flame in masterful strokes. As the phoenix is a bird born of fire, the flames
seemed calming and soothing. Examining the bird's head, it was almost entirely done in an ethereal
white, accented with light strokes of a most striking teal. Teal also outlined the body and wing, and its
blending with the rest of the scene was effortless. Light strokes of white cascaded down the chick's

back as soft feathers, and a streak of violet near the birds base completed the scene. The piece seems to
be a simple sketch and was listed in the gallery as untitled and undated.
We have two pieces, a complex and foreboding work reminiscent of danger and death, and
another symbolic of new life. They differ in their level of abstraction and level of detail, and similarly
their statements on the condition of the living are in contrast as well. A phoenix chick is reborn, while
the troubled traveling bird is temped by a twisting serpent. There is one thing they share: they come
from the mind of a ponderer and philosopher and speak to his virtuous versatility.

Centres d'intérêt liés