Morris Graves is a major American painter with roots in the Pacific Northwest. Morris Graves: Selected Letters draws on a vast cache of the his unpublished correspondence, dating from his teenage years until his death in 2001. Few visual artists of any era have left such a rich and wide-ranging collections of letters, which makes this body of work an unusual and valuable document in American art.
The Graves correspondence is remarkable for its scope, variety, and depth. Written to many correspondents over long periods of time, the letters include the artist's reflections on his art, the art world, philosophy (Zen Buddhism and Vedanta in particular), architecture (Graves designed his homes and gardens), and relationships with family, friends, and lovers. Graves himself preserved most of the letters, or copies of them, and put no restrictions on their use. Other letters come from a wide range of private and institutional sources.
Among the correspondents are Graves's family; Marian Willard, his art dealer; Richard Svare, his companion in the 1950s; and Nancy Wilson Ross, novelist and Buddhist scholar. Other notable figures with whom Graves corresponded are poet Carolyn Kizer, art critic Theodore Wolff, curator Peter Selz, choreographer Merce Cunningham (for whom Graves created a set design), and painter Mark Tobey.
Recurrent themes in the Graves letters are the tensions between sociability and solitude; the desire to be free of the material world versus the need for material comfort; the dismissal of commerce and the desperate need for money; the pleasures and pitfalls of love; and the difficulties of the creative life. The letters are organized topically under the broad categories of people (family, friends, intimates), places (homes and travels), and art (finances and philosophy).