Stuart Davis typically painted local modern subjects in rhythmic compositions with bold colors. Among his sources of inspiration were “skyscraper architecture; the brilliant colors on gasoline stations; chain store fronts and taxi cabs“ and jazz music. Long before postwar artists mined the world of trademark brands, Davis incorporated imagery from logos, commercial signage, and packaging into his paintings, such as the branded bag of tobacco in Lucky Strike (1921). Championed by the visionary dealer Edith Halpert at her downtown Gallery, Davis’s work was met with both enthusiasm and confusion despite being engaged with the stuff and forms of modern life in New York in the 1920s.
Photographed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
Although Stuart Davis did not travel to Paris until 1928, he was well versed in avant-garde European art, including the innovative still lifes of of Pablo Picasso. Super Table (1925) experiments with the nature of the genre, toying with issues of illusion and perspective. Davis was also influenced by popular advertisement imagery, and his graphic style evokes the mechanical, cartoon like forms of commercial printing that were the hallmark of American culture
The starting point for this lively patterned abstraction was an earlier canvas by Stuart Davis (1892 – 1964) entitled House and Street (1931). Treating each subsequent version as a riff on a jazz theme, Davis moved further and further away from his original composition to establish independent, rhythmic color patterns that retained only a few direct visual cues to the initial design. The Mellow Pad (1945 – 51) refers to the phrase “the mellow pad” — jazz lingo for the “cool” place to be. The pulsating colors and meandering forms seen here effectively mimic the dynamic rhythms of jazz. Davis developed his own style of Synthetic Cubism in which he dissolved figure and ground and referenced popular culture, adding a distinctly American sensibility to his abstractions
Heralded for his abstract visual evocations of jazz, Stuart Davis‘s art also responded profoundly to the industrial age. Men and Machine (1934) features two men standing before a schematically rendered structure with their backs to the viewer. Likely representing a construction site with the foreman and investor looking on, the painting alludes to New York’s interwar construction boom. Highlighting the degree to which industrialism was associated with masculinity, Davis’s painting, consisting of primary colors on a white background, also testifies to the artist’s respect for Piet Mondrian.
Photographed in The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.
Influenced by the Cubist language of flat, overlapping planes and wedges, Stuart Davis (1892 – 1964) used geometric shapes in related colors to create this still life, Percolator (1927). Here, he deconstructs the cylindrical forms of a mass-produced, percolator coffeepot and renders the everyday object both abstract and undefinable. By choosing an industrially produced consumer product as his subject, Davis put a new spin on the spatial innovations of the previous decade’s European avant-garde art movements.
Photographed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.
During the 1930s, Stuart Davis, who criticized Thomas Hart Benton’s self-consciously American art as inherently xenophobic, and [referred to] the elongated figures in his paintings as dehumanizing caricatures, was one of Benton’s most vocal adversaries. Even so, their art intersected in many ways. Painted in 1930, Jefferson Market depicts the public space and surrounding structures along Sixth Avenue between 10th and Christopher Streets, only two blocks south of the New School’s headquarters. Davis compressed symbols of urban infrastructure into spatially complex, collage-like painting. The looming shadow of a taller skyscraper in the background portends New York’s continual urban transformation, a theme that Benton engaged in the City Building panel of America Today.
Photographed in the Metropolitan Museum Of Art in NYC.
Report From Rockport By Stuart Davis (All Photos By Gail)
Although he passed away when I was only three years old, Stuart Davis is an American painter whose works I’ve completely fallen in love with through seeing them in the permanent collections of The Met, MOMA and The Whitney – the latter of which is currently hosting a career retrospective of Davis’ paintings entitled In Full Swing, which is just mind blowing.
If you are a Davis fan, this exhibit is a must-see. If you’re not yet familiar with his work, now is the time to get yourself an education.
Stuart Davis (1892–1964) was one of the preeminent figures of American modernism. With a long career that stretched from the early twentieth century well into the postwar era, he brought a distinctively American accent to international modernism.