New York

Morris Louis

Andre Emmerich Gallery

Clement Greenberg––the catalog merely identifies him as “a friend of the artist”––purportedly was reminded of the following passage from Ulysses on first seeing this group of paintings in Morris Louis’s studio toward the end of 1958: “Near bronze from anear near gold from afar . . .” Whether or not this bit of apocrypha is true is quite beside the point––pertinent is, however, the aptness of the literary tag “Bronze Veils” in so justly conveying the character of these works. The evolution of Morris Louis’s painting suggests that, in 1958, he may have felt a lack of structural or tectonic strength in his painting. The Bronze Veils were preceded by airily colored, fountainlike curtains, a color and type to which, on completion of the works under consideration, he would again return. Like so many other motifs in Louis’s painting they form a distinct coloristic, if not iconic, subset. By the time he arrived at the Bronze Veils, Louis had already achieved a format for “holding” the image––a wave like eruption, spread along a horizontal évasement. This horizontal elongation at the upper ridge established lateral, curtain-like volutes of denser emptiness of unprimed, unpainted canvas at the lower corners. These “thickenings” held the veil by closing it or bunching it in on either side. Apparently––I say so without certainty as so much more information must still come to light concerning Louis’s evolution––Louis felt that he could counter the diaphanous bonelessness of seeped in washes by covering the various inner jets with a unifying patina of greenish brown-olive paint, a verdigris which would strengthen and tone up the curiously amorphic character of the gelatin-colored washes beneath. In places, of course, the brilliant understains show through, especially along the top rims of the Bronze Veils. The word bronze is fortuitous as it so well characterizes the need expressed by these works to be sculptural in terms of a paint application which is at once liquid and non-textural, that is, in terms of a painting which has virtually no materiality to it. Imagine, if you will, drapery as one so often finds it in sculpture, say, as burlap dipped in plaster and then cast, like Balzac’s dressing gown in Rodin’s portrait of the author. Imagine then this drapery displayed, even sacramentally “arrayed” before the spectator and then suddenly atomized, that is altered somehow and revealed as weightless and without body. In this connection I wonder whether the celebrated Greek fragment of the Birth of Venus from the so called Ludovisi Throne might not even be a subliminal model. One might say that the metal-colored over-wash in the Bronze Veils satisfies an urge on Louis’s part, in response to a niggling anxiety that perhaps his pictures were becoming too airy and deliquescent. When, after a brief adventure with this iconic subset, Louis would return to the clean wash of pure hue, the structural need would be satisfied by a new icon, the stripe.

Robert Pincus-Witten