Ah, seeing these paintings at the Paul Kasmin Gallery (through January 19) made me feel like I was back in art school when everyone was stain painting and Morris Louis's arc was ascending. I didn't take notes, just pictures.
I've seen a lot of Louis paintings but nothing remotely like this one. Who needs a fireplace if you've got this on your wall? You could almost feel the heat. Made me think of those beautiful Siennese paintings depicting saints at the stake. Hellish. And heavenly.
Here's a detail. I love the rivulets of color. Look how the pigment migrated away from the edges in some places and to the edges in others.
In this painting the graphic elements are reversed, like apostrophes. And then the polished floor reflects and reverses the whole thing.
This is one of Louis's Veils. Up close (below) you can see just how much color it took to get those smoky hues. Looking at the painting for a while, I thought of Rodin's The Three Shades, a trio of nude male figures, bodies drawn together with their shoulders forming a strong horizontal line.
Time has not been kind to this painting. See how the canvas has sagged? And I was surprised to see the "starving artist" framing on this and the other paintings--lattice strips nailed all around. I asked the fellow behind the desk about it, but he didn't have an answer. I suppose it's to maintain the integrity of the work as it was originally shown.
Addendum (2.4.08): A painter friend e-mailed with this comment: "There are Morris Louis paintings that weren't supposed to be seen. In grad school I used to work at the Lawrence Rubin Gallery which showed all the Clement Greenberg people, Louis included, and there was always this idea: "Oh don't look at the 'failed ones'." Like the ones you highlight here. Time changes our eyes and our take on things so much, doesn't it?"