What is guaranteed?
1912 - 1962
Magna on canvas
91 by 151 in.
231.1 by 383.5 cm.
Executed in 1958.
The premise for Morris Louis’ resplendent veil Dalet Kuf was born out of his fastidious methodology that explored methods of paint application in an effort to preserve the picture-plane as a two-dimensional surface. Louis achieved this through an adaptation of a paint staining technique first revealed to him five years after a transformative weekend when Louis and Kenneth Noland traveled together to New York City to meet the preeminent art critic and essayist of the time, Clement Greenberg. As a standout champion of the Abstract Expressionist movement, Greenberg brought Louis and Noland on visits to galleries to view works by Franz Kline and Jackson Pollock, among other artists. Their tour also included a number of studio visits which most notably included that of Helen Frankenthaler. This New York tour proved to become a transformative experience for Louis in terms of his practice and his exposure to the pouring/staining techniques of Frankenthaler opened up a realm of new possibilities for the artist.
His resultant Veils would address formalist concerns of the canvas surface as an expansive, flat, nonfigural field. The Veils also share in the underlying principles contingent to Jackson Pollock’s drip painting, as neither owed recourse to lines, edges, or contours denoting tangible things. (Michael Fried in Exh. Cat., Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Morris Louis, 1912-1962, 1967, p. 11). In 1954, Louis’s Veil paintings would immediately engage him with one of the most significant artistic circles of the time under the critical direction of Clement Greenberg. Greenberg professed the primacy of maintaining the integrity of formal principles in the basic elements of painting. With his color-stain technique, Louis’s focus on the inherent nature of paint, canvas and color was in sympathy to Greenberg’s teachings, and the critic included the spectral Veils in Louis’s first solo exhibition at French & Company in New York.
Louis began his first series of Veil paintings in 1954 before moving into a somewhat less successful period of increasingly gestural abstract expressionist paintings over the next few years. Louis eventually destroyed most of his paintings from this 1955-57 period and today only one surviving painting bears the date 1955, but Louis’s canvas order receipts for that year indicate that he received 158 yards of canvas. Given the average size of his paintings at that time, he probably destroyed about one hundred paintings made in 1955 and about two hundred more painted in 1956 and 1957. Dalet Kuf was then painted in 1958, a year that marks a pivotal moment in Louis’s career. It was at this time that Louis regained a distinct confidence in his work when he returned to produce a new series of Veils, this time more monumental and majestic than ever. This important series would provide the momentum which would carry the artist to produce a number of masterworks over the next several years of his career and lifetime.