Friday, November 07, 2014

Arty Farty Friday ~ Morris Graves - Idiosyncratic Visionary

Morris Graves - an artist of mystical bent whose name isn't well-known, except perhaps among art experts and local people. He has been described variously as idiosyncratic, visionary, mystical, introspective, intensely private, student of Zen Buddhism and Vedantic philosophies, spiritual and sylistic...and most eccentric of the "Northwest Mystics" - artists of the Northwest School in the USA..."going about life in an interesting, just out-of-societal-bounds manner".

He was born on 28 August 1910 in Fox Valley, Oregon, died in May 2001. He was a sickly and moody child, often ill with recurring pneumonia. His family moved to Seattle during his second year.

He dropped out of High School, but returned to his studies in Beaumont, Texas while staying with his aunt and uncle there. He eventually grew to a height of six-foot six. Some sea-going adventures as a cadet or a stow-away followed, accompanied by his brother or a friend, including voyages to Japan, where he found inspiration.

 Hat-tip to Seattle Art
Morris Graves' name first became known in 1933, after winning the Seattle Art Museum's (SAM) Northwest Annual Exhibition. The winning painting, a symbolic self-portrait: "Moor Swan" (see right).

Further adventures followed, including working for the WPA, meeting (and falling out with), artist Mark Tobey, World War II, where despite registering as a conscientious objector he had to spend a brief time in the army.

Graves' paintings at this time featured birds. For him, consciousness assumed the form of a bird, or of a chalice. The birds he depicted were blind, wounded, maddened or immobilized, with large eyes and beaks. Graves's wounded birds proved to be popular in America, now embroiled in the war - as well as relevant to the artist's emotional state.

He lived alone in his self-built home, "The Rock", on an isolated promontory. Graves' paintings became more universally known and appreciated when first exhibited at New York's Museum of Modern Art in 1942. MoMA bought 11 of his paintings for their permanent collection, even though Graves was, at that point, virtually unknown. 34 of his paintings were bought by art collectors. Morris Graves had "made it!"

He was, for a time, the "in thing" for East Coast art and intellectual society. Success and appreciation of his style continued until Pop-Art came along - people, as is their habit, flocked to see "something completely different".

Once financially secure Graves was able to allocate a good proportion of his funds to providing inspirational surroundings. After The Rock, he built, or caused to be built, two other homes in Western Washington and California, both reported to be extraordinarily beautiful creations. He also owned a country estate in Ireland. There's a description and photos of one of his homes at website of Iona Miller,but you need to scroll down a way for relevant piece.

For more, and interesting, detail on Morris Graves, there's a long essay, a very good read, at The essay, from 2003 is by Deloris Tarzan Ament. Essay 5205


Some titles can offer a clue to understanding the paintings, but sadly not every website bothers to include titles. I've found as many as possible. One or two were designated "untitled" by the artist.

Please click on images for bigger or clearer versions

 Time of Change

 Conflict Battling Crane Heads with Chinese Ceremonial Bronze

We are told by a biographer that the birds at each other’s necks, imagined as a ceremonial vessel, was representative of the artist’s inner conflict and inability to finish a voyage to Japan.



 Memorial Day, Abandoned Western Mining Town

 Young Pine Forest in Bloom

 Bird Maddened by the Length of Winter

The above is considered to be one of Graves' anti-war works, painted in 1944 as World War II raged.
"Look at `Bird Maddened,' Daniel DuBois (who published a book of Graves' works) says, "and you see the almost camouflaged central image of a very fragile bird looking back over its shoulder while just barely hanging on by the points of its claws to a rock in an environment, which is extremely hostile. Without a doubt, this reflects Graves' sense of the fragility of life in war.

 Bird Maddened by the Sound of Machinery in the Air

 Bird of the Spirit

 Bird with Possessions

 Bird, Snake and Moon

 Snake and Moon


I find the painting above scary, or at least unsettling, for some reason.

There's a slideshow of more paintings HERE. More paintings at Humboldt Arts too.


Chart set for 12 noon, no time of birth is available.
Born on 28 August 1910 in Fox Valley, Oregon.

Seattle Art Museum has an interesting page on Graves, it includes several quotes from books mentioning the artist and how he was perceived, personally, by others. Example below:

He comes from the Pacific Northwest; an exceedingly tall thin figure, with large transfixed, rather alarmed eyes. . . He is shy and self aware to a degree, aloof yet (you suspect) ruthless in his self-determination. . . . In short he is very birdlike: receding, private, mobile, and migratory. . . He has the willful steely quality of a bird—its fierce capacity to survive.
—Frederick S. Wight, Director of the Art Galleries, University of California, on meeting Morris Graves, 1956

An Earthy harmonious trine between Sun in Virgo and Saturn in Taurus = a meticulous, demanding and determined character with a reasonably good business sense.

Neptune (mysticism, creativity) opposite Uranus (the unexpected, innovation, eccentricities) is a generational opposition affecting many. Skyscript adds:
"...most noticeable in charts where it contacts the angles or Sun or Moon. Uranus fosters change and innovative breakthroughs. Neptune relates to mass consciousness. When these planets are in contact with each other, collective ideals will be shaken and disturbed in order to allow new modes of thought and collective expression to emerge."
Because we have no time of birth it's not possible to accurately place the opposition in Graves' chart.
Uranus also trines Mars and Saturn, so those aspects would tend to draw the opposition into a more personal significance. Each end of the opposition also forms square aspects to Jupiter, creating a T-square.

Venus (the arts) in Leo is in helpful sextile to Jupiter (religion, beliefs, travel) - that's a good fit. He was an enthusiastic traveller, always gathering inspiration for his art.

Moon conjunct Pluto? Maybe. We don't know correct Moon position without time of birth, but it was likely to have been in communicative Gemini. He was a solitary type, not given to social butterfly antics, but he satisfied urges to communicate using a paintbrush.

Any more?

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mike said...

It's a small world sometimes. I lived in Anacortes, WA, for two years...a city on Fidalgo Island. Morris had lived on Fidalgo Island and was one of the local legends. It's a true island, but mere distance separates it from mainland...a small bridge joins the two. Extremely scenic and I can certainly understand Graves' attraction to its beauty and abundance of nature.

Birdman sounds like an odd bird! His Moon is in Gemini regardless of birth time. I've only known a couple of Gemini Moons and they were all rather peculiar...capricious, fickle, and whimsical individuals...children in adult bodies. A mercurial individual with his Sun, Moon, Mars, and Pluto in Mercury's signs. His planets form the bucket (or funnel) pattern, with Uranus as the handle...the higher octave of Mercury, which would be the focus of his other planets. Oddly, Uranus, planet of the higher consciousness, unexpected, surprise, and extreme individuality, is in Capricorn and is antithetical to Capricorn's Saturn rulership...this may have cloaked his personality with an Aquarian-type edginess.

Sonny G said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sonny G said...

such bad typing I had to delete my post..

for me, his art is unappealing. It would make me sad to look at it..
glad for his success among others though..

I dont have a way to write you, except for here so that's what I'll do.

I wanted very much to come back with lots of information about my reading but since I got very little, I couldnt. it made me sad- mostly because I knew I couldnt come here and LIE to you about it..
I just dont want this to be the elephant in the room between us. Yes, you suggested him but I'm an adult and made the final choice to have him do the reading even though I didnt feel we vibed when we spoke and he took my information. What I'm trying to say is, to hell with the money and the fact that I didnt get much out of it. The greatest loss for me, would be loosing the comraderie we have found HERE..
Can we just forget about the reading and go on as we were before please..
Glad you are feeling well enough to post Annie.

mike (again) said...

Sonny - Of course!!! I thought we were back to normal...LOL. I didn't respond to your comment about Lutin's reading, because you said it didn't amount to much. I felt badly for recommending him, as I certainly expected you to receive more guidance. He states on his site that he provides astrological direction for the next year, so I figured you'd at least receive that, but I guess not. It's always beneficial to be self-informed, so I hope you dabble more into astrology and self-learn. There is so much information available on the web for free.

mike (again) said...

I don't find Graves' art appealing, either. While I kneaded my bread dough, I realized that his style reminded me of the contemporary household wares that surrounded me as a child. "Bird of the Spirit" and "Young Pine Forest in Bloom" are particularly reminiscent of that style. Drab colors and quick-art. I remember drapes, table cloths, wall hangings, plates, etc in that style. It was popular in the very late 1930s, 40s, and into the early 50s...part of the depression, WWII, and McCarthy era.

Twilight said...

mike ~ Small world indeed! That's interesting!

I'm not drawn (pun not intended) to his art one little bit. It was mainly so intensely personal that I'm surprised anybody else appreciated most of it at all. Still... fads come and go, still do, always will. He obviously made gobs of money from his artworks - must have done so to have owned those legendarily beautiful homes.

Thanks for the extra astrological pointers. Yes, he certainly was a strange bird!

Twilight said...

Sonny ~ Thanks, much better now - though I'd prepared the bulk of this post before the anti-bios got me.

I don't care for Morris Graves' artwork either, but he's a peculiarity personality-wise, so it makes him interesting. :-)

I was sorry your reading with ML was a disappointment. Not being on the same wavelength as someone is always a poor, if not damning, start.

Sounds as though the astrologer has become stale - maybe the money and success has flowed to him too easily. Like mike, I'd also recommend gleaning as much as you can on astrology for yourself. But if you find it too daunting, and ever consider another attempt at obtaining a reading maybe look at some astrologers who blog and read their pieces to discover if they are on your wavelength, or anywhere near.

Twilight said...

By the way - if anyone ever feels the need to unload, rant or discuss anything unrelated to the day's post, here's an idea: in a comment ask for an "OPEN THREAD", and within a very short time, as long as I'm at home (most of the time) I'll put up another post marked "Open Thread"...and just invite: "please chat away" or some such words.

LB said...

Twilight ~ While Graves' style may not appeal to me, I do appreciate the depth of his message. I always appreciate art that tries to convey something essential about the human condition.

I'd guess his nodal axis of Scorpio South Node/Taurus North Node (in easy-flowing aspect to Neptune in Cancer and Uranus in Capricorn) provided a way to express his painful awareness of a dark side of life most of us would rather not think about.

That Skyscript quote you included about Neptune opposite Uranus seems to fit very nicely.:) Did you happen to notice how if you stretch the orbs just a bit, his Mars, NN and Uranus form a Grand Trine contained within a Kite, with the arrow (Neptune on one end) pointed directly at Uranus?

What do you think?

Thanks for the offer of an open thread, Twilight. Your Aquarius Sun is speaking to my Aquarius Moon.:)

Twilight said...

LB ~ Yes, seems it was his way of railing against certain situations, unstoppable changes, war, etc etc.
Enough of the public must have understood - possibly from clues in some of his artwork's titles.

Thanks for the extra astrological thoughts too. Yes - all roads seem to lead to Uranus don't they? I guess he was Aquarius by proxy (or something). ;-)

(Glad 'open thread' doesn't feel like too bad an idea.)

Anonymous said...

:::looks around:::

Hey ... psst ...
It's just me ... Mugsy!

Good to hear you're back at it!

I think that thread idea is a good one!
You have some good eggs on this blog.

The Kidd, he said ...
Umm ...

:::hunts for paper in pocket:::

Oh yeah, he called this "a place of broad minded refinement"

I don't get it ...
You're a smart lady, and "S" and "L" seem very on the mark.
But there is Big Mike, the Sparrow and the Kodak Hat-man ...
... and sometimes that Jimmy guy.

I mean this place ... it ain't all broads!


Twilight said...

Anon - Mugsy ~

Hey Mugsy! Thanks! Nice to see ya! Can I pour you both a strong one?

LOL...LOL! "broad-minded refinement" is us? Well, well, who'da thought it?

Agreed, all good eggs, even when we sometimes mildly disagree we still make a good omelet. :-)

But where would we be without Mugsy and da Kidd? Now there's a couple o' good eggs!

Thank goodness it ain't all broads, though Mugsy- that definitely would flatten our omelet and make it tasteless.

Good on ya both. I bet now you're goin' down to ol' Nathan's floating crap game. Be lucky!