George L. K. Morris's modernist credentials are impeccable: he was one of the founding members of the American Abstract Artists group in 1936, a frequent exhibitor at Albert E. Gallatin's pioneering Gallery of Living Art, and beginning in 1937, the first art critic for the progressive cultural...
George L. K. Morris's modernist credentials are impeccable: he was one of the founding members of the American Abstract Artists group in 1936, a frequent exhibitor at Albert E. Gallatin's pioneering Gallery of Living Art, and beginning in 1937, the first art critic for the progressive cultural magazine Partisan Review. At the same time, he is something of a rarity among twentieth-century American painters, an abstractionist with a sense of humor. While he shared the conviction of many of his American Abstract Artist colleagues that pure form was the avenue to great art, he filled his canvases with witty combinations of gleeful shapes, jazzy smiling lines, and unlikely materials. Morris began painting in 1929. He studied in Paris with Fernand Léger, from whom he absorbed principles of Cubist structure and a sense of the canvas as an animated, plastic surface. But he quickly recast those French ideas into an American idiom. Paralleling the Cubists' interest in African and Oceanic art, Morris found a connection between Native American artifacts and the abstract shapes essential to modernism. In some paintings, he included stylized representations of Indians. Here, alluding to Native American culture, he used pieces of birch bark as part of a collage of organic shapes. These shapes curl around two polka-dotted forms whose saucy contours seem to dance before our eyes like amoebas under a microscope. While the use of such shapes links Morris to the international movement toward biomorphic abstraction headed by Hans Arp and Joan Miró, his vocabulary is nonetheless fresh and individual. Holding the whole composition in place-pinning it down, as it were-are a dozen nails (and not just any nails but rather old, handmade nails). Arranged in a random pattern, they cast shadows that parallel the pale striations of the birch bark. Their heads echo the polka dots, lifting the jaunty rhythm of the picture into the third dimension. This text was adapted from Davis, et al., MFA Highlights: American Painting (Boston, 2003) available at www.mfashop.com/mfa-publications.html.
Lower right: Morris '39; Reverse: Top/George L.K. Morris/Compo
The artist; Downtown Gallery, New York; to William H. Lane Foundation, 1966; to MFA, 1990, gift of the William H. Lane Foundation.
Gift of the William H. Lane Foundation