Addition V represents the pinnacle and defining period of Morris Louis's work. Part of the artist's Veil Series, first explored in 1954 and primarily painted in 1958 and 1959, these paintings take their name from the technique Louis pioneered known as "veiling," in which the artist spilled paint onto unsized, unprimed cotton duck canvases, leaving the pigment thin enough so that the eye is able to see beneath the surface. Art historian Michael Fried writes: "By laying down wave on top of wave of liquid pigment Louis literally put color into color - more precisely, color-configuration into color-configuration - so that, within the stained portion of any veil painting, the perception of a change in hue, almost no matter how slight or seemingly insignificant, indicates a transition between configurations." (M. Fried, Morris Louis, New York 1970, p. 22).
Rejecting the gestural painting style of the Abstract Expressionists (the artist lived and worked in Washington D.C.), Louis is considered a profoundly intellectual painter, focused exclusively on color and texture. In Addition V, Louis covers the entire canvas with pigment, abandoning the earlier form of a mass of pigment floating amidst a white background. The final wash of color in greens, browns and ochres achieves an effect of radiant inner light that seems to emerge from the surface of the canvas while permeating throughout. The various layers of thinned pigment are soaked into the canvas so that the only actual texture is the canvas threads. Color and support become inseparable just as the order in which the layers are poured is unclear. In the present work Louis is able to achieve the appearance of a complex, modulated surface while maintaining a completely flattened picture plane. While Louis's technique of pouring paint down the canvas was very different than the expressionist brush-work of his New York counterparts, his artistic process is just as deeply felt and saturated with meaning.
Para III, 1959, a similar work from the Veil series shares a very similar color palate, composition and dimensions as the present lot, Addition V. Para III was included in the recent important exhibition Morris Louis Now: An American Master Revisited, which traveled to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego and the Hirschhorn Museum in Washington D.C. In addition, Para III is illustrated on the cover of the accompanying catalogue and has been promised to the High Museum of Art by the Marcela Louis Brenner Foundation.
"Certain characteristics of Louis's work-overall composition, unitary images, open color-led to his identification with the group of color painters whose work in the early 60s was seen as a trend countering Abstract Expressionism. Yet the Veils-the most complex, 'painterly' examples of Louis's mature work-reveal the expressionist core of his style. These large-scale, radiant images, consisting of broad overlays of transparent, freely applied areas of color, allude to natural processes-growth, fluidity-and natural phenomena - light, air, water." (D. Swanson, Morris Louis: The Veil Cycle, Minneapolis, 1977. p. 6)