"The effect conveys a sense not only of color as somehow, disembodied, and therefore more purely optical, but also of color as a thing that opens and expands the picture plane. The suppression of the difference between painted and unpainted surfaces causes pictorial space to leak through-or rather; to seem about to leak through" ("Louis and Noland" Art International, May 1960, pp. 26-29, as quoted in D. Upright, Morris Louis The Complete Paintings, New York, 1985, p. 21).
Belonging to his series of Stripe paintings and one of the last works of art to be completed before his death, Number 1-36 is a wonderful example of Morris Louis's originality and complexity as an artist. A complete departure from his earlier work, Number 1-36 executed in 1962, solidifies in particular his position as a prominent founder of the minimalist movement. Concentrating on the purity of color and form, as an artist he was constantly discovering new ways to maintain the separate identities of color and space, as evident in this significant example.
A solitary, intensely self-critical man, Louis had by the early 1950s arrived at modest success as a painter and teacher in Washington D.C. Through his friendships with painter Kenneth Noland and art critic Clement Greenberg, he became acquainted with the work of Jackson Pollock and Helen Frankenthaler, whose influence on his working methods and conception of painting was deeply significant. Working in a variety of series, that included the dramatic pictorial solution of the Unfurleds (1960-61) and the colorful, controlled and refined Stripe paintings (1961-62) Louis produced effects of incredible delicacy and subtlety.
Using a linear stain technique, which had been perfected over time, and in particular in his Unfurleds series (1960-61), Louis's series of Stripe paintings practiced positioning parallel bands of color against a pure white field to explore both the vibrant rhythm and intensity of color. A dynamic example of his Stripe paintings, Number 1-36, reestablishes the kind of symmetry Morris Louis's work exemplifies. Having introduced more dramatic changes in his Stripe paintings in the spring of 1962, his new paintings, as seen here in Number 1-36, were composed of much narrower, more regular stripes than had been characteristic of the early Stripe paintings which were also referred to as Pillars.
Set against the pure white field of raw unprimed canvas, the intensely painted bands of color, positioned parallel to each other, suggest a sense of rhythm and can be associated with the work of his peers Barnett Newman and Franz Kline. One of the foremost figures for the color-field painters, Newman was one of the first to reject conventional notions of spatial composition in art and through his trademark geometric style served as the precursor for many color-field, hard edge and minimal artists that followed.
While Louis agreed with critic Clement Greenberg on the usefulness of active cropping of the sides of the canvas, they did not agree about the treatment of top and bottom. Louis felt that his pictures were better when cropped along these edges, something which Greenberg only came to appreciate after the artist's death. By cropping the canvas of Number 1-36 Louis not only maintains a dynamic equilibrium of image and surface but leaves a generous area of bare canvas, that permits the stripes to float, unanchored by anything except the flatness of the canvas itself.
Shifting back once more to his relationship with drawing, Morris Louis' stripe paintings were the last paintings he worked on in his career. Instead of banked rivulets, as seen in his previous series, the stripe paintings combined vertical, linear bands to a raw canvas. Referred to as stripes of color, and often of different thickness, these bands, grouped in bunches or stacks, were the focus or subject of each painting. Following a specific trajectory, these stripes of color would sometimes bleed or overlap each other. However, as he progressed within this series and perfected his technique, Louis found a way to contour the stripes to exactly touch but not to overlap. Number 1-36 serves as a rare and wonderful example.