Robert Graham: Artist Portrait

Robert Graham

Born 1938. Died 2008.
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Robert Graham Biography

Robert Graham was born in Mexico City in 1938 and moved to California in 1948. After studying art at San Jose State University and the San Francisco Art Institute, he spent time in London before settling into his studio in Venice, California, in 1972. With an expansive artistic practice ranging from intimately scaled sculpture to towering public monuments and distinctive architectural design, it was Graham’s ability to crystallize his observations of the human form into iconic and emotive representations of the figure that drove his accomplishments.

Over the course of his career, Graham achieved acclaim in museum and gallery exhibitions as well as in the public realm. One of the most significant public artists in the country during his lifetime, Graham was commissioned to create sculptural monuments across the United States. His first major civic commission came from the Olympic Arts Festival organization in Los Angeles in 1984. Other commissions include: the Monument to Joe Louis in Detroit (1986); the FDR Memorial in Washington, D.C. (1997); the Duke Ellington Memorial in New York City (1997); the Charlie “Bird” Parker memorial in Kansas City (1999); and the Great Bronze Doors of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles (2002). Robert Graham also designed the National Medal of Arts in 1985. Awarded annually by the President of the United States to artists and arts patrons, it is the highest form of recognition for outstanding contribution to the arts in the country.

With a commitment to creating positive change in Los Angeles in the aftermath of the 1992 LA riots, Graham, as an artist trustee of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, set up a bronze casting foundry and workshop, with the goal of hiring, paying and training a group of at-risk youth to produce a series of small works to be sold to benefit the museum. Known as MOCA TORSO (1992-1995), the project consists of more than 3,500 individual pieces and remains one of the most iconic works by the artist.

Robert Graham’s work is in the collections of major institutions including Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Dallas Museum of Fine Art; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; Museum of Fine Arts Houston; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

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