John Graham (1881–1961) was a painter, writer, and collector who was influential in the formation of Abstract Expressionism. Born Ivan Dambrowsky, in Kiev, Russia, he studied law and served on the czar’s staff before the Revolution. Although little is known about his early years, he seems to have become familiar with the works and ideas of Kasimir Malevich, Mikhail Larionov, and Wassily Kandinsky, which he absorbed either in Russia or in Western Europe.

Graham came to this country in the early 1920s and studied with John Sloan at the Arts Student League. His paintings alternated between abstraction, realism, Fauvism, and Surrealism. Younger artists, such as David Smith and Arshile Gorky, were introduced to the importance of the unconscious as a source of artistic inspiration through his African sculpture collection, the European magazines he received, such as Cahiers d’art, his book System and Dialectics of Art (1937), and magazine articles he wrote.

Graham painted many portrait busts of strange, cross-eyed women. In the 1940s, he repudiated modernism and retreated into the occult. The last years of his life were spent in London.

From: Baigell, Matthew, Dictionary of American Art, New York, 1979