John Graham

The Russian émigré painter and writer John Graham, born Ivan Dombrowsky, was born in Kiev in 1886, 1887, or 1888. All three conflicting dates are found on various legal papers, licences, and passports. His parents were of minor nobility but with little means. He attended law school and served in the Circassian Regiment of the Russian army, earned the Saint George’s Cross during World War I, and was imprisoned as a counterrevolutionary by the Bolsheviks after the assassination of Czar Nicholas II and his family in 1918. He fled for a time to his mother’s native Poland, and finally in 1920, he emigrated with his second wife Vera and their son Nicholas to the United States. He began calling himself John in the US, and had his name officially changed to John Graham upon becoming a United States citizen in 1927. The name Graham may have been a transliteration of his father’s name, Gratian. Graham is often described as a quixotic figure who cultivated a larger-than-life persona in the artistic circles of New York in the first half of the twentieth century through his authoritative philosophical and aesthetic arguments on the one hand, and his often fabulous tales of his early life on the other, including a story he wrote of his origins in which he was dropped as an infant onto a rock in the Caspian Sea by an enormous eagle.

In New York, Graham studied at the Art Students League, taking classes with John Sloan, William von Schlegell, and Allen Tucker. Among his fellow students were Dorothy Dehner and David Smith, Adolph Gottlieb, Alexander Calder, and Elinor Gibson, who married Graham in 1924. The couple lived briefly in Elinor’s native Baltimore, Maryland, where he met Etta and Claribel Cone, collectors of modern European paintings. It may have been the Cone sisters who introduced Graham to their circle of avant-garde artists and art collectors in Paris in the late 1920s. Whatever its origin, Graham’s early style has been compared to Cezanne, Braque, Derain, and Chirico, and his frequent trips to Europe made him a conduit for current art ideas and trends for the American artists who knew him.

Graham exhibited his paintings steadily in the late 1920s and early 1930s, including shows at the Society of Independent Arists (New York) in 1925, the Modernist Galleries (Baltimore) in 1926, Galerie Zaborowski (Paris) in 1928 and 1929, at Dudensing Galleries (New York) and Phillips Memorial Gallery (Washington) in 1929, the First Biennial at the Whitney Museum in 1932, and at 8th Street Gallery (New York) in 1933. During this period Graham and his wife Elinor lived in Paris, New York City, New Jersey, and upstate New York. He spent a year teaching at Wells College in Aurora, New York, where he also executed a series of wall panels in 1932. Graham’s friendships with other artists during this period included Arshile Gorky, Stuart Davis, and Willem de Kooning. De Kooning is said to have called Davis, Gorky, and Graham the “three smartest guys on the scene.”

Graham’s European travels also enabled him to earn a living by buying primitive sculpture and antiques for collectors and dealers. In the 1930s he bought African Art for Vanity Fair editor and art collector Frank Crowninshield, and in 1936, Graham arranged an exhibition of Crowninshield’s collection at Jacques Seligmann gallery. Graham and Elinor Gibson divorced in 1934 and he married Constance Wellman in Paris in 1936. They lived in Brooklyn Heights near Adolph Gottlieb, David Smith, and Dorothy Dehner, and worked for Hilla Rebay in her formation of the Museum of Non-Objective Painting, which became the Guggenheim Museum. Suffering financial hardship in the late years of the Depression, Constance and Graham lived in Mexico for several stretches of time, and Graham published several articles on Mexico and Mexican Art, and an essay entitled “Primitive Art and Picasso” in Magazine of Art.

Graham was a prolific writer, but only a few of his written works found their way into print. Aside from his essays, published works include a small book of poetry, Have It!, published in 1923, and a book which presented Graham’s personal theories of art entitledSystem and Dialectics of Art, published in 1937 by Delphic Studios, an eclectic New York gallery and small press run by Alma Reed. The book was influential for a younger generation of American artists; Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner in particular both expressed appreciation for Graham’s ideas. For decades, Graham worked on several other major written works which were not published, including a highly stylized, symbolist work about his childhood and an encyclopedic collection of short, didactic essays on a wide range Grahamiam themes, a work which Graham usually referred to as Orifizio Mundi.

In 1942, Graham organized the exhibition “French and American Painters” at McMillen Gallery (New York) which showed Modigliani, Picasso, Braque, Rouault, and Matisse, alongside the Americans Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Lee Krasner, Stuart Davis, David Burliuk, and Walt Kuhn, among others. The show was well-received critically and, as it was Jackson Pollock’s first public exhibition and Willem de Kooning’s second, and the occasion of Pollock and Lee Krasner’s meeting, could be considered a watershed event in contemporary American art.

Graham’s own style made a pronounced shift away from abstraction in the 1940s. He began referencing renaissance art in his paintings, incorporating occult symbols, and signing them “Ioannus Magus,” or “Ioannus San Germanus.” His marriage to Constance ended acrimoniously around this time. He met Marianne Strate, a bookbinder, through her daughter Ileana Sonnabend and son-in-law Leo Castelli. They lived in Southampton, New York, where Graham was close to the Castellis, Paul Brach, Miriam Schapiro, and where he renewed his friendship with Willem de Kooning, who had a studio in Castelli’s East Hampton home in the early 1950s. Marianne died in 1955.

Graham exhibited at the Stable Gallery in 1954, and at the newly-opened, uptown Whitney Museum of American Art in 1955. Jack Mayer became Graham’s dealer in the late 1950s, held exhibitions at his Madison Avenue gallery, Gallery Mayer, in 1960, and arranged for an exhibition at the Tennessee Fine Arts Center in 1961, shortly before Graham’s death. Graham left the United States for the last time in 1959, lived in Paris for two years, and died in June 1961 in a hospital in London. Gallery Mayer held a memorial exhibition at the end of 1961. Retrospective exhibitions of Graham’s work have been held at the Art Institute of Chicago (1963), the Museum of Modern Art (1968), the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (1969), and the Phillips Collection (1987).



PRINT GIVEAWAY: We are giving away one of each of the photos we have in our Print Sale (a total of nine prints!) to one person that Likes and Reblogs this post. To be entered into the drawing twice you can also Like and Share our Facebook post. Winner will be announced on July 17th.

There’s still time to Like and Reblog for a chance to win 9 beautiful prints! Winner will be announced tomorrow, July 17th at Noon EDT. <3



PRINT GIVEAWAY: We are giving away one of each of the photos we have in our Print Sale (a total of nine prints!) to one person that Likes and Reblogs this post. To be entered into the drawing twice you can also Like and Share our Facebook post. Winner will be announced on July 17th.

There’s still time to Like and Reblog for a chance to win 9 beautiful prints! Winner will be announced tomorrow, July 17th at Noon EDT. <3

A Pioneer of Modern Abstraction

She was a pioneer of modern abstraction but also a deeply spiritual human being who dared to take her own path in the traditional world of early 18th century Sweden. Meet Hilma af Klint an artist who let herself be guided by ’high masters’, who never stopped studying philosophy and who´s big break didn´t come until many years after her death – and on another continent.
Some people are truly ahead of their time. Renaissance man and famed artist Leonardo da Vinci was sketching designs for a helicopter around 1505, when he was painting Mona Lisa. And Apple’s legendary CEO Steve Jobs actually described the iPad in 1983 – decades before it was launched.
A more sublime rider against the laws of time is Swedish artist Hilma af Klint. Known as a pioneer of abstraction she dared to explore the new spirituality of the late 1800s. She translated the occult, the esoteric and pieces of the Theosophical movement into magnificent visuals. She acted as a medium and many of her pieces are automatic drawings, in where she let spirits paint through her. When Hilma af Klint died in 1944 she stipulated that her abstract art should not be shown publicly until 20 years later, because she didn´t think the world was ready. However her big breakthrough didn´t come until 1986 when her art was shown at the exhibition The Spiritual in Art at Los Angeles County Museum of Art

’When Hilma af Klint died in 1944 she stipulated that her abstract art should not be shown publicly until 20 years later, because she didn´t think the world was ready.’

Taking in Hilma af Klints art – as can be done at Moderna Museet in Stockholm this spring and at the Venice Bienniale later this summer – is a physical and spiritual experience, that I cannot imagine leaves anyone untouched. The large, often detailed canvases seem to glow, they speak to you in a number of languages and layers. The world – her world – is presented in bright orange, pale pink, midnight blue and a rainbow of other colors, often juxtaposed. The abstract shapes makes you think of an organic micro- (or macro-) cosmos, but present are also geometric shapes such as the equilateral triangle, the circle, the cross and the six-armed star. Letters and mystic signs or codes can also be found. 

In touch with masters
The story of Hilma af Klint begins at Karlbergs Castle in Stockholm where she was born in 1862. Early in life she developed a connection with nature and her father, a famous naval commander, taught her the principles of mathematics. In essays she has been described as a silent youth but full of willpower. She started her art studies at Tekniska Skolan in Stockholm (later Konstfack), then she took lessons in portrait painting and at 1887 she graduated from the Royal Academy of the Fine Arts. She painted rather traditional, naturalistic portraits and landscapes.
But at the same time she embarked on an inwards journey. Af Klint attended seances where mediums came in contact with the dead. In 1896 she and four other women formed The Five, a group that made contact with ’high masters’ from other dimensions. The activity of The Five came to highly influence her work in the studio near Kungsträdgården in central Stockholm.
In the early 1900s she decided to focus fully on abstract imagery, independently paving a way that also Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian and Kazimir Malevich would take. According to Moderna Museet, she expressed her ambition to execute paintings that could convey the evolution, describe the eternal principles and laws and the immortal side of man in 1904.

The Temple
Thereafter she began working on The Temple, one of her central works. It consists in several series, in total 193 paintings, and af Klint says she was guided by a spiritual dimension while performing many of them. She called her work mediumistic, during seances instructions for the paintings were written down and sketches were made in a notebook that was kept as a secret for all but a few. She didn´t finish The Temple until 1915, when she did three large altarpieces. In the series is also The Ten Largest – huge paintings that illustrate the four ages of mankind: childhood, youth, maturity and old age.
Her next project was The Swan, a series of 24 paintings that abstractly show the struggle between a black and a white swan. It was aimed to point at the union between opposites such as male and female, black and white, light and dark. She also dictated her thoughts on spirituality and the soul, a text that – when typewritten – consisted in over 1200 pages. 
Later in life she turned her gaze back to nature. Beautiful, soft sketches seemingly depicting the secret life of plants are shown from her elder years.

To Switzerland
Hilma af Klint was a medium and she was also part of the Theosophical Movement and later theAnthroposophical Movement. Theosophy is a doctrine that incorporates various religions and spiritism as different expressions of the one truth, namely that divinity is inherent in every being. Anthroposophy is a life philosophy based on theosophy but with stronger Christian elements. Hilma af Klint and her lifetime companion Thomasine Andersson, a nurse who cared for af Klint´s blind mother before she died, started taking regular trips to Dornach in Switzerland in 1920. There they got to know Rudolf Steiner who founded the Anthroposophical movement. Hilma af Klint spent long periods in Dornach studying anthroposophy and attending his lectures. She became increasingly interested in colors and water paintings.

’If someone dumped all the paintings here in the foyer and said ’now they are yours’ we would panic. We wouldn´t know what to do with them and we wouldn´t have money to take care of them’

Daniel Birnbaum, head of Moderna Museet

New museum?
Due to, or maybe thanks to, Hilma af Klint’s late breakthrough little research has been done on her art and few academic essays have been published. To me that is refreshing. I feel like I can get to know this brave, visionary and extremely creative women on my own, let it take time. Deep inside it feels like that’s what she wants. 
But when I walk around the magic exhibition I also think of the somewhat sad irony of her legacy. In the early 1970s Moderna Museet rejected a donation of the more than 1000 paintings and 26 000 drawings af Klint left behind, art that is now owned by the conflict-ridden Hilma af Klint foundation. Today the same museum enthusiastically shows her work, but it still says it cannot take on the collection, which is in deep need of conservation and digitization. 
– If someone dumped all the paintings here in the foyer and said ’now they are yours’ we would panic. We wouldn´t know what to do with them and we wouldn´t have money to take care of them, Daniel Birnbaum, head of Moderna Museet, said recently to daily Svenska Dagbladet.
– I would say that this is a great Swedish artistry in need of help.
At the same time voices are raised for a state-supported Hilma af Klint-museum, like thePicasso-museum in Paris or the van Gogh-museum in Amsterdam. Let´s hope both politicians and spirits can come to an agreement on that.
Words by Tina Magnergård-Bjers, journalist at the Swedish news agency TT – dedicated yoga practitioner, art lover and cross-country skier based in Stockholm.
Hilma af Klint at Moderna Museet, Stockholm until May 26, 2013 and at the Venice Biennale, Central Pavillion June 1 until  November 24, 2013
Words by Christina Magnergård-Bjers, journalist at the Swedish news agency TT – a dedicated yoga practitioner, art lover and cross-country skier based in Stockholm.

"Just the Facts, Ma’am"

Intervention is the buzzword that defined and prescribed the kind of political act considered effective and correct during the 1980s. In the culture at large, cynicism and exhaustion numbed survivors of the political activism of the sixties and seventies; at the same time, within the academy, aspects of simulation and deconstruction theories destabilized “humanistic” concepts of identity and action, contributing to a sense of moral equivocation. In the political arena internationally, easily visible and identifiable white, Western males did not fare too well fighting wars against often not white, seemingly invisible, unidentifiable guerrillas (or terrorists) who fought carefully chosen, limited engagements. Nationally, single-issue candidates or issues predominated: pro-choice,pro-life,animal rights, the environment, “read-my-lips.” Across the political spectrum, only small “interventions” therefore, were believed to be possible, always already understood by their initiators as ephemeral and of limited effectiveness.

"Guerrilla Girls - Conscience of the Art World". The name and Homeric epithet immediately indicate both the timeliness and the character of their chosen form of intervention. These slef-styled guerrillas chose as their subject and target, sexism and racism in the art world, and as primary site for their ambushes, the SoHo and Tribeca neighborhoods of Manhattan. Further, recuperating the word conscience might in itself be seen as an intervention. During a notably materialistic and selfish era, the Guerrilla Girls recalled to public notice the strategies and values of earlier political groups: isn’t conscience dated as a concept? Naive, religious even? The Guerrilla Girls’ adoption of it was characteristically tongue-in-cheek and sincere (another retro trait in the 1980s).

Since an intervention is meant to be brief, sire-and instant-specific, it is amazing that Guerrilla Girls, formed in 1985, is still active.A press release dated 6 May 1985 announces the appearance in SoHo of “posters pointing to the inadequate numbers of women artists represented in leading New York’s galleries,” and, further, states that “Guerrilla Girls plan to continue its campaign throughout the next weeks and next season, drawing attention to the retrograde attitudes toward women artists that characterize certain segments of the art world of the mid-80’s.” There is something touching about “the next weeks and next season” - not seasons, mind you. No spontaneously formed underground group could imagine that something done out of righteous anger and as a lark could las five years and counting.Their fifth anniversary may be the appropriate moment to consider what Guerrilla Girls is and what Guerrilla Girls has done and does, rather than that perennially asked question, who are the Guerrilla Girls? (Sophisticated players in the political game of intervention, the Guerrilla Girls, as we enter the nineties, are assuredly involved in their own process of self-evaluation.)

Contemporary critics have pointed to the work of Sue Williams, expressing amazement that she is “the first painter in recent memory to plunge deep into the taboo-ridden areas of the psyche” and to do so "from within painting" therebydisregarding Applebroog’s considerable contributions to the renewal of painting as a locus of feminist discourse. Applebroog’s formal influence on Williams should be noted, although Williams remains, perhaps deliberately, much more primitive in her pictorial means. Williams and other artists who romance the abject may unfortunately be popular because female victimization, as graphically expressed through references to pornography, is male oriented, although it may express some women’s personal experiences.

Applebroog understands the deeper meaning of the 1970’s feminist motto, “the personal is the political” : the goal was to release individual women from the bondage of isolation, from self-destructive delusions of unique abnormality, to provide a sense of commonality, to illuminate the existence of a determinative patriarchal system of difference, and to focus anger away from the self toward the culture in order to achieve voice and agency. Applebroog’s work has the scope to encompass personal suffering, identification with many sufferings, including those of monkeys and men, and the levels of ambiguity between victim and victimizer. She has, and offers to the viewer,both no emotional distance and totally ironic authorial distance. She may have infiltrated the “Grand Tradition” of nineteenth-century painting, literally deconstructing its surface, but her work offers a reconfiguration as broad, ambitious, and inclusive as any nineteenth-century narrative oeuvre.