As a child, Graves exhibited a strong affinity for nature—reportedly committing forty types of wildflowers to memory by the age of ten. This kinship with the natural world inspired his later adoption of Zen philosophy. Bat Dancing for a Slug is one of Graves’s many works produced in the 1940s that introduced water–based paint on a paper support. The painting’s shadowy background creates an enigmatic field that somewhat obscures the four animals at center: a bat, a slug, a frog, and an inconspicuous snake—a recurring motif in the artist’s oeuvre.
Cage met Graves in 1937 and began organizing shows for the artist, who shared his interest in applying Eastern philosophies to Western practices. Cage recognized that Graves’s artistic process sought to reconcile our inner and outer realities and cultivate a “transcendent experience” that is “continually and everywhere offered, but [that] is most easily noticed where man has done least, as in the unfrequented parts of nature.” Cage emphasized that Graves’s paintings “are not paintings. They are invitations.”
Gallery label from There Will Never Be Silence: Scoring John Cage’s 4’33”, October 12, 2013–June 22, 2014.