Morris Louis



Not on display

Morris Louis 1912–1962
Acrylic paint on canvas
Support: 2591 × 4597 mm
Presented by Mrs Marcella Louis Brenner, the artist's widow, through the American Federation of Arts 1968

Display caption

After the 'veil' paintings (see 'VAV' in this room), Louis developed his pouring technique in a series of works known as the 'unfurleds'. 'Alpha-Phi' belongs to this series. In these works Louis poured lines of pure colour across the bottom corners of the painting, leaving the centre bare. This became known as the 'one-shot' technique because the artist had only one attempt at a successful pour. If the line went astray there was no second chance. These lines stress the painting's flatness, leading the eye across and out of its surface. This again denies any reading of the painting as an image to be looked into, and insists on its reality as non-representative object.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

Morris Louis 1912-1962

T01058 Alpha-Phi 1961

Inscribed under turnover of canvas 'M. Louis | 359' (probably not by the artist)
Magna acrylic on canvas, 102 x 180 3/4 (259 x 459)
Presented by Mrs Marcella Louis Brenner through the American Federation of Arts 1968
Repr: Ronald Alley, Recent American Art (London 1969), pl.13; The Tate Gallery (London 1969), p.186 in colour

One of the series of pictures known as 'unfurleds' which was painted after the series of 'veils' and before Morris Louis turned to painting regular parallel stripes of pure colour. The unfurleds are characterised by irregular diagonal rivulets of pure colour across the bottom corners, with the centre of the canvas left blank.

On the way these pictures were titled see the note on 'Vav' [T01057]. The use of Greek letters had the precedent of the pictures which had been titled 'Alpha' and 'Delta' by the artist during his lifetime: both were pictures of the unfurled type.

'Alpha-Phi' was never exhibited prior to its acquisition by the Tate and, like many of Louis' pictures, remained unstretched until some years after his death.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.456-7, reproduced p.456

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