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Starting in the 1920s and 1930s, Pacific Northwest artists began to produce work that drew upon natural colors, textures and light unique to the area to express mystical themes. As a group and as individuals,
they had gained international fame by the early 1950s.
The Northwest School was an art movement based in small-town Skagit County, Washington, and was at its peak in the 1930s and 1940s.
The movement’s early participants, and its defining artists, have become known as “the big four”: Guy Anderson, Kenneth Callahan, Morris Graves and Mark Tobey.
beyond traditional Northwest Native American art forms, which had been long recognized as “Northwest art.”
These artists combined natural elements of the Puget Sound area with traditional Asian aesthetics to create a novel and distinct regional style, particularly in painting and sculpture, with some drawing, printmaking and photography. Tobey, Callahan, Graves and Anderson were all immersed in and greatly influenced by the atmosphere of the Pacific Northwest environment
Morris Graves always seemed half man, half myth. The best-loved of Northwest painters, he was a bad-boy recluse whose images of symbolic birds and glowing flowers are permeated with a sense of consciousness in transformation.
“Bird Singing in the Moonlight” had two heads. Conceived in solitude at a hermitage called “The Rock” which Graves built on an isolated promontory, the paintings soared to fame when they
were first exhibited at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in 1942. MoMA bought an astonishing 11 of his paintings for their permanent collection, an unprecedented splurge for the
work of an unknown artist. East Coast collectors snapped up 34 more of his paintings.
of the world than most men his age. He had dropped out of high school to sail as a cadet on American Mail Line ships across the Pacific Ocean. It was love at first sight when he landed in Japan.
“There, I at once had the feeling that this was the right way to do everything,” he said. “It was the acceptance of nature not the resistance to it. I had no sense that I was to be a painter,
but I breathed a different air.” His time in Japan was brief, but for the rest of his life, his art reflected a spare Japanese aesthetic.
Graves was a phenomenon; a lanky six-foot six-inch country boy who seems to have been born with perfect pitch for color and line. He understood from childhood, when he began creating
floral arrangements, how flowers and animals can strike a emotional chord that resounds in the psyche like a great gong. When Graves painted a single poppy in a bud vase, the blooms glowing
intensity made it a symbol of life itself, brief and encased in a fragile vessel. And when he painted a wild-eyed “Bird Maddened by Machine Age Noise,” anyone whose teeth were ever set on edge
by the shriek of a nearby saw knew it
wasn’t just a bird he had in mind. He even painted the jagged red sound of a chainsaw, with a thick sawtooth line moving like a relentless presence overhead.
imagination and the public heart of Northwesterners in quite the same way Graves did. Living at The Rock with only his dachshund Edith for company, he meditated and listened to night sounds,
trying to imagine and to draw the creatures that made them. He tried to translate birdsong and the sound of surf into paintings.