Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Morris Graves: One of the Mystic Painters

The assignment was to report on a dead 20th century Northwest artist who was accomplished enough to have a body of work and have been known in their lifetime. That's how I came to find out about Morris Graves (1910-2001).

He was native Northwesterner (Oregon) and a born artist. His parents had no idea what to do with the little artist. They were sure his fate was to be penniless.

Lacking guidance, Morris wasn't sure of his direction either, so at age 18 he joined the Merchant Marines. A voyage through the Orient would prove to be one of the most profound influences on his art.

Morris was largely self taught. His natural gifts meant that at age 23 he won first prize at the NW Annual Show held at the Seattle Art Museum. (By age 26, Morris had his first one-person show at that museum.)

From 1935 to 1954, Seattle had an informal art community. The artists group included Morris, Mark Tobey, Kenneth Callahan and Guy Anderson. Together, these four artists heavily influenced each other. They were referred to as the Northwest School of Masters. During this time, Life magazine placed the four on the cover of an issue with the title: "The Mystic Painters of the Northwest."

They were called mystic painters because they all sought understanding of themselves and their relation to the cosmos including Eastern concepts of consciousness and creation. Morris studied and used Taoist, Buddhist and East Indian symbolism in his paintings.

Throughout his life, Morris would produce art that was sparse and beautifully illuminated. At the end of this life, he requested a painting titled, "Triumph" be brought to him. He looked at it and saw not tulips but angels rising to the heavens and so he, too, departed.
Right up to the end of life, Morris saw and created mystic symbolism.


  1. I remember reading about him. You're right about the paintings looking illuminated. BTW what a peaceful end... Margie

  2. What a beautiful true story.SZ

  3. Sandra McMorris JohnsonDecember 2, 2009 at 3:54 PM

    Thank you for your words about Morris Graves. The words were as sparse as his luminous work is beuatiful. What a wonderful tribute!

  4. I really enjoy your blogs and learn a lot, too. Thanks, Connie.