Formal Analysis: Morris Louis, “Dalet Kaf” (1959)

Louis, "Dalet Kaf" (1959)

Morris Louis’s painting Dalet Kaf from 1959 is currently on exhibition at the Fort Worth Modern Art Museum.  The painting is acrylic resin on canvas and measures 100 5/8 X 143 inches, taking up almost the entire wall on which it is hung. Louis uses line, color and contrast of light and dark elements to create this painting and it’s meaning.

Overall the composition of the image is centered on upward movement and repetition of vertical lines. Louis uses a thin layer of resin allowing the white canvas underneath to faintly show through the colors. By watering down the resin, Louis achieves this opaque coloring and even allows the paint to drip at the bottom of the canvas. He uses a vast range of colors, such as variations of black, blue, pink, green, and orange. On the outer edges of the painting, there are two dark triangular forms balancing the image and make the central colors and lines the focal point. Each element, line, color and contrast between light and dark, works together in Morris Louis’s painting, Dalet Kaf, bringing unity, symmetry and balance to the composition.

Lines of color running vertically through the image are what give the painting a sense of stability and repetition.  The central lines run vertically but the lines found on the sides of the painting start to run to the top corners. Colorful opaque lines make up almost the entire image. Placing the black lines in the foreground on top of the colored lines gives more depth to the composition. Vertical lines of color give the image a sense of stability and symmetry. At the same time though because they are opaque, they resemble the delicate petals of a flower in springtime.  Although line is what creates the composition, color is the central concern of the painting.

Variation of color is the focal point in Morris Louis’s painting, Dalet Kaf. Louis’s wide range of over lapping colors move rhythmically from one side of the canvas to another. Primarily, blues, oranges, greens and purples painted with but by placing one color over another more colors are generated. Darker colors frame the image, while lighter colors are located in the central areas. This formation of color looks like the curtain of a stage is being opened onto a beautifully painted backdrop. Theatricality of the contrast between the light and dark elements of the painting is what brings the image together.

Contrast between light and dark elements, along with line and colors; help to form the overall composition. Light radiates from inside the painting, pushing away the darker forms. As the centrally located lighter area moves consistently towards the outer edges, the dark shadows get pushed out of the focal point of the composition. By pushing out the black, Louis creates a theatrical feeling to this painting. It looks as if the curtains to a well lit stage are opening up to the audience of a grand theater hall. Starkly contrasting the light and dark areas of the painting, Morris Louis creates a grand composition of contrasting colors and forms.

All three elements, line, color, and contrast of light and dark, work in unison to form the composition of Dalet Kaf. There can be two very different interpretations of Dalet Kaf. First, it could be seen as the opening of a beautifully colored flower in springtime or the curtains of a stage opening for the first act to commence. Either way, the composition of Dalet Kaf centers on the idea of stability, unity, repetition and symmetry.


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