Born in Detroit, figurative artist Helen Moris grew up in Brooklyn, and spent the bulk of her life in New York City. Raised by a single mother who worked as a clothing store cashier, Moris had no art education or training to speak of. Yet she was able to find work as an illustrator right out of high school, using nothing but her raw talent and chutzpah to land the job. This early experience served as a classroom of sorts for Moris. Through her renderings of hats, clothing, and lingerie for department store advertisements, she taught herself how to capture both the essence and specifics of the human form.
When the second world war broke out, Moris joined the war effort, helping to produce armaments at the Casco Products Corp. plant in Connecticut, and serving as support staff to combat flight crews at the Presque Isle Army Air Field in Maine. After the war ended, Moris resumed her work as an in-house illustrator for a New York department store.
It wasn't until she moved into Manhattan in the mid 1950s, however, that Moris' life as an artist really began. Following an early marriage and divorce, Moris relocated with her young daughter to the Upper West Side during the heyday of the post-war New York art scene. Reveling in the vibrant creativity of the city, she continued her education by soaking up the wide variety of cultural offerings that surrounded her.
Despite the dominance of the avant-garde movement during that time—a period that ushered in Abstract Expressionism, Pop, and Conceptual Art—Moris remained true to her commitment to realistic depictions of the human form. And in her regular trips to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, she connected deeply to the painter she considered the consummate representative of that pursuit: Rembrandt van Rijn. Before long, Moris was taking classes at the legendary Art Students League of New York and producing portraits in a technique inspired by her idol.
The "Rosie the Riveter" years
For the next five decades, Moris supported herself with her artwork, winning awards, exhibiting her paintings in a number of prestigious galleries, and mounting a one-woman show at Columbia University.
While Moris' style evolved, along with her name (she restyled the original "Morris" in the mid-1970s), she never tired of her fascination with the human figure and her attempt to convey both its beauty and its depth. The body of work that she has left behind—a sublime catalogue of graceful, contemplative forms—represents her never-ending quest to communicate, through art, what it means to be human.
Moris' humorous take on the fast-paced life of an in-house department store illustrator. That's Helen in the foreground with her feet up on the desk.
A partial list of Helen Moris' gallery affiliations:
Allied Artists Guild
Art Lovers Gallery
Artist's Equity Association of New York
Audubon Artists, Inc.
The Christopher Street Gallery / Christopher Gallery
East Side Gallery
Galerie Paula Insel
The Little Carnegie Art Gallery
Margo Fieden Galleries
The National Arts Club
The Selective Eye Art Gallery
The Thirteen Collection