Morris Louis

Morris Louis


The widespread use of acrylic paints by contemporary artists tends to obscure the fact that it was not until several decades after their development that this synthetic medium gained currency. For one thing, their initial availability was limited. Of more consequence, however, was the resistance of artists to adapting their techniques to the new medium, whose designation “synthetic” or “plastic” seemed anathema to their conceptions of fine art.

By the early 1940s, two American paint manufacturers, Leonard Bocour and Harry Levison were working independently to perfect an acrylic paint suited to artists’ needs. In 1946 Bocour’s acrylic resin paint, Magna, first appeared on the market. Bocour began giving artists tubes of the new paint to test its potential. Among the first experimenters were Barnett Newman, Ad Reinhardt, Jackson Pollock, and beginning in 1947, Morris Louis (1912 – 1962). Louis’s letters to Bocour in 1958 complain of difficulties in thinning the “recent beeswax stuff.” His complaints continued until April 1960, when Bocour produced a special Magna formula for Louis and Kenneth Noland. He obtained a consistency like that of maple syrup by eliminating the suspending agent. This paint was far more amenable to thinning, making it readily adaptable to the techniques then used by the two painters.
Morris Louis: An Abbreviated Biography

Louis was born 28 November in Baltimore, MD to Cecelia and Louis Bernstein, immigrants from Russia.

Morris attends public schools in Baltimore.

At the age of 15, Louis enters the Maryland Institute of Fine and Applied Arts on a four-year scholarship which he won in a state competition. He accepts his diploma in June 1932.

He Shares a studio in an office building with two other artists.

Using the name Maurice Bernstein, Louis assists on a mural project commissioned by the Public Works of Art Project.

Sometime in 1936 Louis moved to New York and supported himself with a part-time job as a window decorator. He became friendly with the paint manufacturer Leonard Bocour, who often gave him small packages of the leftover acrylic paint he was developing.

Exhibits in a group exhibition at the A.C.A. Gallery on 8th Street. He is referred to in a review in Art Front as “Morris Louis,” the first indication in print that Louis had changed his name.

He is issued a new Social Security number under his recently adopted name, the application declares him unemployed as of 10-27-38. Soon thereafter, Louis registered with the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and he continues under their employ until August 1940.

Louis returned to Baltimore. He was never drafted into military service and was apparently classified 4F. He lived with his parents, relied on financial support from his family, and used the family basement for his studio.

Louis married Marcella Siegel. The couple lived in her two-room apartment in Silver Spring, MD and converted the bedroom into his studio, and used the other room for living, eating, and sleeping.

Louis exhibits a gouache in a group exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art. He began using Magna, an acrylic paint manufactured by Leonard Bocour.

Louis and his wife moved to Washington DC where they purchase a home. He converted the dining room into the studio he would use for the rest of his life. He begins teaching at the Washington Workshop Center of the Arts where he becomes friendly with Kenneth Noland.

Travels to New York where he is introduced to Clement Greenberg, who would champion his work for the rest of his career. First solo exhibition at the Workshop Art Center Gallery.

Greenberg includes Louis in an exhibition titled “Emerging Talent” for the Kootz Gallery in New York.

Louis was included in a group show at the Leo Castelli Gallery and then had his first solo exhibition at Martha Jackson Gallery. He subsequently destroyed nearly all of his paintings from 1955, 56, and 57. Only one surviving painting bears the date 1955.

Louis’s work was included in exhibitions at the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Osaka International Festival in Japan, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia.

Louis’ works are exhibited in solo exhibitions in Paris, London, Milan, and Rome.

Louis’ works are included in “American Abstract Expressionists and Imagists” at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.

July 1, cancer of the lung was diagnosed and on 7 September, Morris Louis died at home.

In September the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York opened “Morris Louis – 1912-1962: A Memorial Exhibition of Paintings from1954-196