George L. K. Morris devoted his career to avant-garde painting, sculpture, and literature. He graduated from Yale University before studying at New York’s Art Students League. Traveling to Paris in 1929 and 1930, he became intrigued with cubism when he viewed the work of Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Piet Mondrian, and Jean Arp. Further studies with Fernand Léger and Amédée Ozenfant at the Académie Moderne helped him develop a boldly simplified style using the Cubist device of object fragmentation. By the mid-1930s, he had fully embraced abstraction and Morris’s work bore almost no traces of figuration. Typically cubist, his compositions used simple geometric shapes and interlocking planes.
Among his extensive network in New York was Albert Eugene Gallatin—a distant cousin—whose substantial collection of modern art became the foundation of the Museum of Living Art at New York University. Morris was the curator of this first museum of modern art in New York City; the collection included Picasso’s Three Musicians (1921), Léger’s The City (1919),and Mondrian’s Composition in Blue and Yellow (1932). Together with painters Charles B. Shaw and Suzy Frelinghuysen (who married Morris in 1935), he became part of an important small group devoted to advancing abstraction. The group became known as the Park Avenue Cubists because of their privileged lifestyle and had a significant impact on the critical reception of Cubism through the organization American Abstract Artists.
At the height of WWII, Morris discontinued his practice of pure abstraction to produce a group of semi-representational paintings. He believed that the war period required a “greater need for ordered expression.” Munition Factory was among that group of works with semi-representational elements though it still demonstrated his ideals of clarity and precision. This is more an intellectual than an emotional response to war—focusing on engineering achievements, rather than death and destruction. Geometric shapes of flat color and linear elements are arranged in an all-over composition.
Morris includes motifs that give the viewer clues that the scene is likely a foundry – a factory that produces metal castings. Metals are cast into shapes by melting them into a liquid, pouring the metal into a mold, and removing the mold material after the metal has solidified as it cools. At the foreground, the black-lined factory floorboards are tilted up directing the viewer’s attention to the center of the scene where a black rectangle is filled with a pre-process metal rod that moves from left to right. Coming down from a blue and orange ceiling are two strong vertical components. At left, the rounded, pierced form resembles a melting furnace. At right, a dipping tool l with three red and black vertical prongs show hot metal pulled from the fire, just before inserted into a vat of cooling bath. Set against a larger, overall tan background the scene is clean and crisp, belying the dirty reality of the process as seen in this photograph of the Scovill factory during the 1940s (Mattatuck Museum Archives).
From 1941, Morris and Frelinghuysen lived in their Bauhaus inspired house in Lenox, Massachusetts (now, open to visitors). In the 1950’s Morris’ paintings of receding checkerboard patterns anticipated Op Art and his art continued to garner attention and success in the art world during the 1960s. Morris was fatally injured in an automobile accident in Stockbridge in 1975. Frelinghuysen died in 1988.