Robert Graham (sculptor)

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Robert Graham
Born(1938-08-19)August 19, 1938
Mexico City, Mexico
DiedDecember 27, 2008(2008-12-27) (aged 70)
EducationSan Jose State College
San Francisco Art Institute
Known forSculpture
Notable work
Olympic GatewayMemorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, California (1984);
Joe Louis Memorial – Detroit, Michigan (1986)
Spouse(s)Joey Graham
(m. 1959; div. 19??)
(m. 1992)

Robert Graham (August 19, 1938 – December 27, 2008) was a Mexican-born American sculptor based in the state of California in the United States. His monumental bronzes commemorate the human figure, and are featured in public places across America.

Early life and education[edit]

Graham was born in Mexico City, Mexico on August 19, 1938, to Roberto Pena and Adelina Graham. Roberto Pena died when his son was six years old, and the boy, his mother Adelina, his grandmother Ana, and his aunt Mercedes left Mexico and moved to San Jose, California.

Robert Graham received his formal art training at San Jose State University and the San Francisco Art Institute.[1] He continued his studies at the San Francisco Art Institute in California, finishing in 1964.


By the late 1960s, Graham had one-man exhibitions of his sculpture at important contemporary art galleries in Palo Alto, Los Angeles, New York City, London, Cologne, and Essen, Germany. He, along with family members Joey and Steven, lived in London for a period before settling in Los Angeles in the early 1970s. His first solo exhibition in a museum was at the Dallas Museum of Art in 1972. Since then he has had dozens of one-man shows, including several at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Graham used a range of materials and scales in his work. In the 1970s he created very small wax sculptures (circa 4 inches (10 cm)) in miniature dioramas, depicting people interacting in various contemporary environments, such as a living room or a beach scene. Some of these interactions included sexual congress. Graham's 1986 monument to the boxer Joe Louis is a 24 feet (7.3 m) bronze fist and forearm. He has created hundreds of nude figures and groupings in intermediate scales.

Graham's first major monumental commission was the ceremonial gateway for the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, for the occasion of the 1984 Olympics. He also designed the commemorative silver dollar for the event. The gateway featured two bronze torsos, male and female, modeled on contestants in the games. The gateway was a major design element of an Olympiad noted for its lack of new construction. To the surprise of many, the nudity of the torsos became an issue in the media.[2]

After 1984, Graham received many other commissions for monumental works, such as The Great Bronze Doors of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles (2002).

Personal life[edit]

Graham married his first wife Joey Graham in 1959. They have one son, Steven, born in 1963.

He married actress Anjelica Huston in 1992,[3] and they resided in an unusual dwelling in Venice, Los Angeles. Huston refused to move to the bohemian area unless Graham built them a fortress to live in. The result was a giant, windowless structure behind an opaque 40-foot fence.[citation needed]

Graham made a cameo appearance in Huston's movie, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, as the Venezuelan general near the beginning of the film standing on the deck of the ship. Wes Anderson mentions in the movie's commentary that Graham has some aspects in common with Steve Zissou.


In 1983, Graham was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Associate member, and became a full Academician in 1994.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and First Lady Maria Shriver announced on May 28, 2008, that Graham would be inducted into the California Hall of Fame, located at The California Museum for History, Women and the Arts. The induction ceremony took place on December 15, 2008, but he was too ill to attend. His son Steven accepted the award on his behalf as he was inducted alongside 11 other legendary Californians.


After an illness of about six months, Graham died on December 27, 2008, at Santa Monica – UCLA Medical Center, in Los Angeles.[1] His funeral was held at Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, which has bronze doors that Graham created for the cathedral. His remains are interred at Woodlawn Cemetery, Mortuary & Mausoleum.


Fountain Figures No. 1, 2, 3 (1983), bronze, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Detail of front doors of Spalding House, the Honolulu Museum of Art, cast bronze (1988)
Social Programs (1997), bronze, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Washington, D.C.
"Monument to Joe Louis" also known as "The fist" (1986)


  1. ^ a b LA Times, obituary
  2. ^ When Everyone Giggled at the LA Coliseum's Headless Nudes
  3. ^ CBC Graham Obituary Archived December 29, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ Honolulu Museum of Art, Spalding House Self-guided Tour, Sculpture Garden, 2014, p. 6
  5. ^ a b "Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial". Robert Graham. Retrieved June 2, 2015.
  6. ^ Robert Graham's profile on Metacritic. Retrieved March 26, 2017

External links[edit]