October 27, 2006
Volume 34
Issue 43
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Tuesday, Apr 13, 2021



by Don Paulson - SGN Contributing Writer

Seattle is privileged to have four internationally known gay artists: Morris Graves, Mark Tobey, Guy Anderson and composer, John Cage.

IN 1953, Life magazine featured the three painters and titled it Mystic Painters of the Northwest, "Painters of our misty light, shimmering lines and symbolic forms." The article included straight Kenneth Callahan who didn`t think Anderson should be in the article&&. The piece acknowledges other artists of the PNW from realistic to nonobjective that had one characteristic in common; "They embody a mystical feeling toward life and the universe." The three painters took the title lightly but they were entitled to be called Mystics: Tobey the more intellectual, Graves the poet and Anderson the extrovert. All studied Buddhism in depth and Tobey and Graves traveled the Orient.

In an art review of my paintings at the Woodside /Braseth Gallery in 1962, Author/Art Critic Tom Robbins, included me in the review as one of the later Mystic Painters of the Pacific Northwest. Of the early three,Mark Tobey was the oldest. [1890~1976] He developed his now famous "White Writing" or "Overall painting Style" that supposedly influenced Jackson Pollack. Tobey belieived that "painting should come through awareness of meditation rather than cannals of action. " He taught art at the Cornish School of Arts and story has it that he painted a mural on one wall of his Cornish School apartment that was painted over when he moved out (chip away)

Tobey and Morris Graves had deep roots in Seattle but they were more international than Guy Anderson who lived all his life in the Northwest.

The three painters like most gays before Stonewall kept their gay life private but they had their love interests. Anderson [1906~1998] was more open and had many friends and patrons who visited his rustic Studio in La Conner, Washington. Some came unannounced which was okay, but Graves was more private. At a rare moment he lamented about the pressure of being famous, "I don`t have any time anymore." The first time I visited Anderson in 1962 I thought his house was full of beautiful, organized clutter: stones, boughs, flowers, found objects and driftwood as inspiration for his art. David Coleman remembers visiting Guy with gay Interior designer Ted Herriod. "We always brought a bottle of Gin and some Steaks to cook on Guy`s Hibachi." Guy was noted for his unfailing sweetness of disposition and sense of humor. Tom Robbins placed his manner somewhere between "Oscar Wilde and Cary Grant, lusty but sophisticated."

Along with his great wit and playful manner, Morris Graves was always searching for truth and Asian aesthetics. Painter Bill Cummings called him, "Thin and smoldering." Of the three painters, Morris (1910~2001) was the most outrageous such as his bizzare "Rotten Dinner Party," a true "Happening" years ahead of it`s time.

Friend Richard Rogers remembers; "Morris was a force. He looked like a handsome Jesus Christ and had that mystical appearance. With his six/six height and extraordinary personality, so strong and effective, he could get away with things most people couldn`t."

But during World War Two he was classified a Conscientious Objector and spent eleven months in the Stockade and finally released as un~adaptable to military service.

A long time female friend remembers Morris as "extraordinary in every way, wild, true and a great sense of humor" (and like Tobey and Anderson, not sensitive about his homosexuality) Art absorbs all.

Seattle had an Avante Guard art scene in the 1930s. Gay Composer John Cage taught music at Cornish School and conceived some controversial music performances that included his friend Morris Graves. Richard Rogers continues, "Morris had the job of rattling with a big chain a bathtub of broken bottles. At another performance he had to give an unearthly wail. He would practice this wail at his home in Edmonds that was very rural at the time. It`s purely apocryphal but the farmers complained their cows were freaked and had a hard time giving milk. Another time he filled a baby carriage with rocks and pushed it into the posh Oympic Hotel, placed a rock on the other chairs at the table and ordered dinner. Morris would do anything for attention."

Probably the most famous escapade was his "Rotten Dinner Party." He and a few friends sent out invitations to everyone on the Seattle Art Museum`s (stolen) mailing list. It said, "You or your friends are not invited to an exhibition of Bouquet and Marsh paintings by eight of the best painters in the northwest." Recipients arrived by the droves, some formally dressed to find the gateway to his house blocked by a table that was obviously a moldy banquet a week old complete with tipped cups and wine stains, soaked with the drizzle from an overhead sprinkler. A recording of dinner music was interspersed with a recording of a pig fight. Graves stayed out of sight, laughing non stop as he observed in secret the angry and confused guests. One would wonder how he faced these people again. Richard Rogers replied, "People were afraid of him. He was just too imposing. You could never second best Morris Graves."

One of Graves best known and beautiful images was the Crane, venerated all over the world. In Greece it was the bird of omen, in Japan a symbol of longevity. On May 5,2001, when Morris Graves died, a Crane called out from the lake outside his window.

Wonderful examples of the three painters can be seen at the Woodside/Braeth Art gallery in Seattle.

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