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Morris Graves



Morris Graves was born on August 28, 1910, on a homestead farm in Fox Valley, Oregon. He dropped out of high school after his sophomore year. When he was 18, he worked alongside his brother as a cadet on American Mail Line steamships sailing around Asia. Graves was especially affected by his travel to Japan and included themes from Japanese art in his work throughout his career. His art first received public attention at the Seattle Art Museum’s Nortwest Annual Exhibition in 1933, where his symbolic self-portrait Moor Swan earned the purchase prize. Graves’s surrealist works throught the 1930s expressed the common anxiety triggered by the Great Depression. It was during this period he took up the practice of Zen Buddhism. In 1939 Graves worked for a brief period for the Federal Art Project, a division of the Works Progress Administration. Through the program, he met Mark Tobey and experimental composer John Cage, who furthered Graves’s interest in Eastern philosophy. In 1942, Graves achieved national fame when all 19 of his works in the “Americans 1942: 18 Artists from 9 States” exhibit, sold and received high praise from critics. The same year, Graves was drafted into the army to fight in World War II. He had purposefully left his regestration incomplete and was arrested. He was arrested again at the home he shared with his friend Japanese architect George Nakashima when they were forced to report to the internment camp. Graves was interrogated for possibly being a Japanese collaborator, a suspicion that would haunt the rest of his carreer. At Camp Roberts, California, Graves entered a deep depression, and, at with the recommendation of the camp psychiatrist, honorably discharged on March 1, 1943. In 1953, LIFE Magazine’s feature on the “Pacific Northwest School of Visonary Art”— the shared style of Graves, Anderson, Mark Tobey, and Kenneth Callhahan who all worked in Skagit County, Washington, the previous two decades—cemented Graves’s status as a significant living artist. Graves built several homes throughout his life in rural, isolated areas, as he preferred to live in and paint the quiet of nature. In 1965, he built his home he called “The Lake” surrounded by an ancient rainforest on the coast in Loleta, California. He spent his time painting and maintaining his garden. Morris Graves died at The Lake on May 5, 2001.

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