Artist and Avatar: The Eclectic Oeuvre of Ukrainian Artist John Graham
At a 1987 retrospective at The Phillips Collection and in the accompanying exhibition catalog, notable art historian Eleanor Green referred to Ukrainian artist John Graham as an “artist and avatar.” Now at ADAA: The Art Show 2015, Graham’s wide range of inspirations and his ever-shifting styles are on view at the Allan Stone Projects booth.
Lest there be confusion about the usage of the word “avatar” in an internet-happy era of sci-fi movies and video games, Oxford Dictionaries defines it as a Hindu term meaning “a manifestation of a deity or released soul in bodily form on earth; an incarnate divine teacher; an incarnation, embodiment, or manifestation of a person or idea.” So, the characterization of the artist as an avatar functions on multiple levels. Graham was an avid student of mysticism, and, in his large body of work, manifested a host of unorthodox ideas. Among the various influences and movements associated with his work were Freudian and Jungian psychology, Cubism, Surrealism, tribal art, and exotic alphabets, to name but a few.
Indeed, Graham’s artistic legacy is difficult to categorize and his style impossible to pin down properly. , That isn’t entirely surprising when you learn more about his personal biography. Graham, born Ivan Dambrowski in Kiev in 1886, arrived in New York in 1920 and enrolled shortly thereafter at the Art Student’s League, where notable classmates included Adolph Gottlieb and Alexander Calder. Graham built his artistic career alongside de Kooning, Gorky, and other pioneers of the American Modernist movement. Later, in a benchmark moment that was key to his characterization as an avatar, he introduced his New York contemporaries to the idea of the unconscious as a source of artistic inspiration in his 1937 publication Systems and Dialects of Art.
Today, Graham’s works are featured in the permanent collections of prominent institutions: the Art Institute of Chicago, New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Phillips Collection, among others. Allan Stone Projects will show an intriguing selection of his landscapes, erotic drawings, and oil portraits at ADAA: The Art Show 2015.
Visit Allan Stone Projects at ADAA: The Art Show 2015, Booth D29, New York, Mar. 4–8, 2015.