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Parrish Art Museum Presenting Comprehensive John Graham Retrospective

Sydney A. Braat

Abstract Composition, 1941, Oil on canvas, 15 x 18-1/4, Artis—Naples, The Baker Museum. (Courtesy Photo)

The Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill will explore artist John Graham's development as an artist and self-reinvention over the course of his 30-year career in its latest exhibition, John Graham: Maverick Modernist, which will be on view from Sunday, May 7 to Sunday, July 30.

"In many ways Graham has been a hard artist to pin down, eluding as he does the oft-told narratives of modernism," said Alicia G. Longwell, the Parrish's Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Chief Curator, who organized the exhibition. "His protean career as painter, theoretician, and polemicist is long overdue for reconsideration and it is the aim of John Graham: Maverick Modernist to show how this artist remains relevant today." 

John Graham: Maverick Modernist will encompass 65 paintings and works on paper from 1923 to 1959 that are organized chronologically. It illustrates the development of Graham's style beginning with cubist-influenced still lifes, nudes, landscapes, and portraits of the 1920s that waxed more abstractly in the 1930s, to his radical stylist change in the early 1940s when he produced portraits inspired by the Renaissance and 19th century French artists.

Self-Portrait, painted in 1923, will be the opening painting of the exhibition. It was painted during Graham's first year of formal art study at the Art Students League. Work from the late 1920s includes ten paintings from 1928, which proved to be a very prolific year for the artist. At the time, Graham lived in Paris and had his first solo exhibition in a Left Bank gallery. Graham's style progressed in a more abstract way over his lifetime, which is illustrated in the contrast between the representational Coffee Cup (1928) and Lunchroom Coffee Cup (1930). In these paintings, Graham favors the object of the coffee mug and the egg, which are depicted through geometric shapes and angular lines.

Coffee Cup (La tasse de café), 1928, Oil and sand on canvas, 19-5/8 x 25-1/2, Collection Joseph P. Carroll and Dr. Roberta Carroll, Courtesy of Forum Gallery, New York. (Courtesy Photo)

During the 1930s, Graham continued to push the limits with abstraction. He painted with a minimum of color and linear forms with titles that affirmed his commitment to the style, like his paintings entitled Red Square (1934) and Abstract Composition (1941).

The 1940s were a complete stylistic reversal for Graham as he explored more dramatic artistic styles and steered away from his dedication to abstraction in both his writings and work. The exhibition will reveal this drastic shift from his allegiance to Picasso and Matisse to the figuration in the mode of Raphael and Ingres. The exhibition will conclude with late works from the 1950s that reflect Graham's eclectic interests including mysticism and the occult, as in the mixed media on paper portraits Head of a Woman (1954) and Donna Losca (1959). These paintings portray Graham's talent in diagrammatic grids, angled lines, astrological symbols, and numerology.

John Graham: Maverick Modernist is organized by Alicia G. Longwell, with guest co-curator Karen Wilkin, consulting curator William C. Agee, Evelyn Kranes Kossak, Professor of Art History Emeritus, Hunter College, City University of New York, and French art historian Sophie Egly. The exhibition is accompanied by a 176-page, fully illustrated catalogue distributed by DelMonico Books • Prestel, with interpretive essays by the curators.

A Member's Reception for John Graham: Maverick Modernist will be held on Sunday, May 7 at 11 a.m.

Parrish Art Museum is located at 279 Montauk Highway in Water Mill. For more information, call 631-283-2118 or visit parrishart.org.

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