About The Artist
In the history of Western art, the subject of the human body is enduring. Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, California sculptor Robert Graham contributed to the tradition of the nude with an approach that melds realism with expressive force. The artist loved women. He was raised by three “mothers”–his grandmother Ana, his aunt Mercedes, and his mother Adeline first in Mexico City, then in San Jose, California. Born in Mexico in 1938, he grew up visiting public monuments, pyramids, murals, and churches; great works outside the confines of a museum.
Famously Graham was an in-demand sculptor of bronze public monuments, celebrating admirable Americans. In Monument to Joe Louis (1986), the boxer’s 24-foot long arm and fist, weighing approximately 8,000 pounds, is suspended and supported above a major downtown intersection in Detroit. The City of New York (in Harlem) was gifted his cast bronze and gold leaf Duke Ellington Memorial (1997) composed of the figure of Ellington, a piano, three columns, and nine muses that together stand 30 feet high. Dedicated on June 1, 1984, Olympic Gateway was commissioned by the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee to commemorate the 23rd Summer Olympics, and is installed in front of the entrance to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Rising 25 feet above the ground, the 20,000-pound post-and lintel structure is surmounted by the muscular bronze torsos of a male and a female–athletes who competed in the Olympics.
On a personal scale Graham dedicated himself to the female nude–intimate, immediate, endless renditions of strong and confident female forms in drawings, engravings, and sculpture–over the course of four decades. Art historian and professor Donald Kuspit says that Graham contributes to the ancient discourse of the nude and the lived body in all its “hereness.” He concentrated on female figures likely because he wanted to study and emulate woman’s inner creativity. “Graham wants to become one with the female muse to unite with his better self, as it were, and to assure himself that he will be perpetually creative,” argues Kuspit. Graham’s many female sculptures are powerful and muscular forms, not romanticized or generalized, but naturalistic. According to artist Tony Berlant “if you look at them, you see individual personalities, I think. They are portraits–not generic.”
For the Eight Statues exhibition at Gagosian Gallery in New York in 1994, Graham created a series of female nudes in various poses. Characteristic of his treatment of the female body, one of these forms, the cast bronze Elisa (1993), is a realistically rendered portrait of a young woman. A noble figure atop a flawless architectural column and base, the work is a synthesis of classical form and a modern perspective.
Los Angeles is home to several of Robert Graham’s public sculptures. You can see the Venice Torso (1997) at the Windward Circle in Venice. After the LA Coliseum in Exposition Park, you can visit the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels and behold the Bronze Doors and the statue of Our Lady of the Angels, dedicated in 2002. A massive project, Graham worked nearly five years on it with some 150 artists. The cathedral proudly calls these doors different to those of any other Christian place of worship. Instead of using typical Old and New Testament biblical stories as images, Graham chose to create scenes that are “culturally recognizable.” In addition to the serene 8-foot angel on top of the doors, there are ten Virgin mothers depicted, with various ethnic origins, including Pomata, from the Andes; Guadalupe, from Mexico; and Belén, from Peru. Again, Graham immortalizes women in multiple forms.
"Art: Great Bronze Doors." Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Archdiocese of Los Angeles, 2010. Web. 22 April 2015.
Des Marais, Paul. "Robert Graham Elisa."LAMA/Los Angeles Modern Auctions. Los Angeles Modern Auctions, 26 Nov. 2011. Web. 22 May 2015.
Heilpern, John. “Out To Lunch: Guardian Anjelica Anjelica Huston Remembers Her Late Husband, the Renowned Sculptor Robert Graham, with Love and Champagne.” Vanity Fair. Condé Nast, 10 Feb. 2010. Web.
Kuspit, Donald. “Goddess Or Gynecology?” Artnet. Artnet Worldwide Corporation, 10 July 2009. Web. 22 April 2015.
Muchnic, Suzanne, and Cara Mia Dimassa. “Robert Graham, L.A. Sculptor, Dies at 70.” LA Times. Los Angeles Times, 28 Dec. 2008. Web. 22 April 2015.
"Robert Graham-artist." Robert Graham. Robert Graham Studio, 2008. Web. 22 April 2015.