Louis the Illusionist?
The great mid-century critic, Clement Greenberg, praised Morris Louis’s paintings for being “purely optical experience[s].” For Greenberg, Louis’s paintings were the pinnacle of abstraction: a celebration of the essential flatness of the canvas and primacy of color and devoid of any references to the real world. But, fifty years on, it is hard to limit oneself to such narrow praise of these lyrically beautiful paintings. Louis may not have used line to “draw” in the traditional sense, but he was a master at layering paints and manipulating the pours of color so as to create illusionistic spaces and objects. When describing his paintings, we almost always reach for language that refers to things that are tangible, even sculptural: curtains, caves, mountains, pillars . . .
Louis’s works highlight the arbitrariness of pigeonholing paintings or artists as being either “abstract” or “representational.” These works succeed in both worlds.
-Michèle Pollak, Gallery Educator