The Parrish turns an intrigued eye onto modernist John Graham.
John Graham, Lunchroom Coffee Cup, circa 1930, Collection Allison Stabile, New York, now on view at the Parrish Art Museum.
“Similarity is very boring,” John Graham wrote in 1954 of his predilection for painting cross-eyed women. Bold change was the only constant along Graham’s Zelig-like path through the 20th-century art world, and an exhibition on view at the Parrish Art Museum traces the astonishingly varied career of this “maverick modernist.”
“Graham’s influence on younger artists and his role in the late 1920s and 1930s in America as a conduit for ideas from Europe is well known, but his own work is harder to pigeonhole,” says Parrish Chief Curator Alicia Longwell, who organized the exhibition of 65 paintings and works on paper. “He was a stylistic chameleon.”
Born Ivan Gratianovitch Dombrowski in Kiev in 1886, Graham had studied law, served in Czar Nicholas’s cavalry during World War I, and escaped the Bolshevik Revolution before his 1920 arrival in New York City, where he enrolled in the Art Students League. It would be the first of many reinventions: A swashbuckling multitasker, Graham was also a poet, writer, art critic, mystic, and yoga enthusiast known to practice his sirsasanas on Georgica Beach while clad only in a loincloth. A selfportrait from this period begins the chronologically arranged show.
In the early 1940s, his bold and jazzy still lifes gave way to realistic—and often mesmerizingly strange—portraits. “He realized that he had pursued abstraction as far as he could,” explains Longwell. “It has been said that he returned to his ‘prerevolutionary’ roots, yet there is nothing backward-looking about the way he painted these figures, with the compressed space and unmodulated planes of color that are a hallmark of modernism.”
Through July 30, 279 Montauk Hwy., Water Mill, 283-2118