Michael Rosenfeld Gallery is pleased to present Calix, Cup, Chalice, Grail, Urn, Goblet: Presenting the Sexual Essence of Morris Graves, the gallery’s third solo exhibition for Morris Graves (1910-2001). On view from June 15 to August 2, 2019, this exhibition is a seven-decade survey exploring the artist’s symbolic use of vessels in luminous, spiritual works that exemplify the essence of his mystical relationship with nature. From early oil paintings to surrealist works on paper and later quiet still-lifes, the imagery of the chalice is reflective of Graves’s expansive world view.
Drawn to its sensual form, Graves explained that the shape of the chalice originates from the sexual anatomy of flowers: the urn-shaped calix bears the flower’s reproductive organs, defined by the “male” pollen-bearing stamen that surrounds the “female” seed-bearing pistil. As receptacles, the calix, cup, chalice, grail, urn and goblet contain the essential matter of life and embody its cyclical rituals.
Graves explained in a 1952 letter the symbolic possibilities of the chalice, calyx or cup: As calyx: contains the flower, the potential of essential experience and renewal, and of growth. As cup: (karmic cup) the contents of which, either pain or Spirit, traditionally is unalterable and/or cannot ultimately be rejected.
A more recent series of chalices has been used with the more individual personal meaning: Chalice with no empty space, i.e., the cup that holds nothing. Chalice with inturning lip, i.e., the cup that holds something back. Chalice with division or with partition in the empty space, i.e., the cup that holds neither one opposite nor the other but both simultaneously. Chalice on a distorted, bent, or tilted stem, i.e., the cup’s content willfully or consciously wasted. Chalice shattered into pieces, i.e., the cup as a symbol of the negative effort to recapture the belief of Duality.
Chalice articulated out of the stuff which apparently surrounds it, i.e., the symbolizing of unity—or of the phenomenal being the illusory projection of consciousness, etc. etc., etc.2 The chalice was Graves’s private symbol for spiritual birth and the container for the soul, a motif through which he attempted to encourage the viewer toward enlightenment. Presenting the Sexual Essence of Morris Graves charts the evolution of this recurring form as a reflection on an artist who sought spiritual life and growth in a world that he felt was defined by disruption and disintegration.