John Graham 1886 - 1961 American, born Ukraine Abstract Expressionism/ New York School Painters
Born in 1886 in Kiev, Ukraine, to a family belonging to the hereditary Polish nobility, Graham was trained in the law and served with the Czar’s forces in World War I. By 1920 he had made his way to New York where he fulfilled a long held ambition to become an artist by enrolling in the Art Students League. He is credited with influencing a generation of younger artists living and working in New York—Stuart Davis, Dorothy Dehner, Arshile Gorky, Willem de Kooning, Lee Krasner, Jackson Pollock, and David Smith among them—keeping them abreast of happenings in Paris through first-hand accounts and periodicals like Cahiers d’art. Perceived as an “old world” insider, Graham nonetheless shared their “new world” perspective. He was not so much a conduit for formal ideas as a promoter of the possibilities for artistic advancement in the U.S. His roles as author, connoisseur, dealer, and impresario were central to his endeavor as well.
Graham’s artistic career is largely misunderstood. During the early 1940s, he deviated from his earlier allegiance to Picasso and a synthetic cubist style and began to produce historicizing portraits, almost exclusively of women, that looked back to Raphael and Ingres. One critic judged that he had turned on modernism and reconnected to his roots as a counter-revolutionary. As with most artists who drastically change their style, Graham’s radical reversal has been widely misconstrued. Graham’s self-styled notion of the artist as alchemist and shaman has found fertile ground in the art of the last fifty years, from Andy Warhol’s oxidation paintings to Mike Kelley’s protean incarnations.