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Artists Stuart Davis
Stuart Davis Photo

Stuart Davis

American Painter

Movements and Styles: Ashcan School, Early American Modernism, Cubism

Born: December 7, 1892 - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Died: June 24, 1964 - New York, New York

Stuart Davis Timeline

Quotes

"An artist who has traveled on a steam train, driven an automobile, or flown in an airplane doesn't feel the same way about form and space as one who has not."
Stuart Davis
"I regret that I have long been 'type-cast' as 'Abstract,' because my interest in Abstractions is practically zero. Real Abstract art exists only in Academic painting, or in the minds of Art critics, historians and iconographers."
Stuart Davis
"I don't want people to copy Matisse or Picasso, although it is entirely proper to admit their influence. I don't make paintings like theirs. I make paintings like mine."
Stuart Davis
"My concept of form is very simply and is based on the assumption that space is continuous and that matter is discontinuous. In my formal concept the question of two or more dimensions does not enter. I never ask the question 'Does this picture have depth or is it flat?'"
Stuart Davis
"For a number of years Jazz had a tremendous influence on my thoughts about art and life."
Stuart Davis
"For any artist to persevere, they must have an enthusiastic audience of at least one."
Stuart Davis

"I paint what I see in America, in other words I paint the American scene."

Stuart Davis Signature

Synopsis

One of America's first modern artists and a forefather of Pop art, Stuart Davis began his artistic career with the Ashcan School before embracing European modernism following the Armory Show. The artist's abstract paintings, infused with jazz rhythm and bold, colorful abstractions of New York's urban landscape or household objects, offer a taste of European Cubism with an American twist. Whether painting in the style of realism or Post-cubist abstraction, Davis's determination to convey something of American political and consumer culture was unwavering.

Key Ideas

Davis is credited with developing an American variation of European Cubism at a time when modernism was just beginning to infiltrate the country. Through slang words and imagery that were distinctly American, Davis's paintings established the country's presence in the burgeoning modern art world.
The artist was one of the first to consider jazz and swing music in conjunction with painting. His use of bright, pulsating colors, expressive lines, and repetitious shapes creates a visual rhythm in his paintings similar to the syncopation and improvisation of jazz music.
Davis introduced a new post-Cubist approach to abstraction by dispersing shapes, throughout the canvas and balancing bold colors in such a way as to deny a central focal point. This new method, in which all parts are equal so that the viewer's eye can wander unguided, signified an important step toward the complete abstraction accomplished by Abstract Expressionists, such as Jackson Pollock.
Davis transformed common consumer products and advertisements into singular works of high art that evoked the American populist spirit, prefiguring Pop art of the 1960s.

Biography

Stuart Davis Photo

Childhood

The son of sculptor Helen Stuart Foulke and art editor Edward Wyatt Davis, Stuart Davis seemed destined for a career in the fine arts. His interest in drawing was apparent by age sixteen, when he began writing and illustrating adventure stories for his brother Wyatt, thirteen years his junior. Davis's father was then the art editor and cartoonist for Newark Evening News. The family's relocation from Philadelphia, where Davis was born, to New Jersey was fortuitous for Davis's artistic development. It put him in closer contact with a number of artist-reporters who had been working with his father since the 1890s. Now known as "the Eight," these artists included Robert Henri, George Luks, and Everett Shinn.

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Stuart Davis Biography Continues

Important Art by Stuart Davis

The below artworks are the most important by Stuart Davis - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Chinatown (1912)
Artwork Images

Chinatown (1912)

Artwork description & Analysis: This painting, which depicts a tenement building located in New York City's Chinatown, alludes to the social realities of the city's immigrant and working class populations. A woman dressed in black confronts the viewer, offering her bodily profile for consideration. Faded advertisements mottle the stone surface of the building near the door. A barely legible sign in the window announces, "SUM YET PLEASURE," suggesting the woman's occupation to be that of a prostitute. On the balcony's rail sits an outstretched cat, traditionally a marker for promiscuity further supporting this assumption.

Chinatown is distinctly different from much of Davis's mature work, which is known for its bright colors and abstract forms. Here, Davis offers an honest, objective view of the metropolis's seedy underbelly in the style of the Ashcan School. His expressive brushwork hints at the painting's hasty completion - something Robert Henri encouraged in his students. As an Ashcan artist, Davis was among the first American painters to express an interest in enlightening and educating viewers on the populist reality.

Oil on Canvas - Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas

Lucky Strike (1921)
Artwork Images

Lucky Strike (1921)

Artwork description & Analysis: During the 1920s, Stuart Davis painted table and object still-lifes that, because of the clarity of abstraction, have been designated as Cubist-Realist. Many depict tobacco products readily at hand for a smoker, as Davis smoked himself. A clear departure from his earlier, strictly realist paintings, this abstract still-life of Lucky Strike cigarettes retains identifiable patterns, textures, and lettering associated with the brand, but detaches them from their original packaging. The features of the package are rearranged on the canvas seemingly at random, reminding the viewer of the difficulty of translating a three-dimensional object to a flat canvas. The collage-like composition and color palette bring to mind the Synthetic Cubist paintings of Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Juan Gris.

Davis began incorporating modern art principles into his work following the 1913 Armory Show. He described the exhibition of European abstract art as "the greatest shock to me - the greatest single influence I have experienced in my work." Still, it took several years before his work evolved into the heavily abstract, brightly colored compositions for which he is best known.

Lucky Strike is a testament to Davis's success applying European modern painting techniques to a distinctly American subject, thereby offering viewers an Americanized Cubist style. Like his contemporaries Charles Demuth and Gerald Murphy, Davis created modern masterpieces that call attention to American consumerism. In this case, Davis painted a newly mass-produced product - cigarettes - which by 1930 had replaced loose leaf tobacco and rolling papers. His use of a widely known brand as a subject for art anticipates the Pop art movement of the 1960s.

Oil on canvas - Museum of Modern Art, New York

House and Street (1931)
Artwork Images

House and Street (1931)

Artwork description & Analysis: Photographs suggest that this image likely represents Front Street and Coenties Slip in Manhattan's Financial District. The canvas is divided into two distinct views of the same intersection - what Davis called a "mental collage." A tenement building with a fire escape ladder dangling down toward the ground appears at left with a delivery truck labeled "Smith" below. "Smith" may refer to then Governor Alfred E. Smith, who was campaigning for the presidency. The view at right offers a broader perspective, with a street, a sidewalk, smaller buildings, and skyscrapers in the distance. The elevated train line arcs across the frame, supported by steel girders rendered in red beneath. The colors and shapes on both sides of the canvas are bright and chaotic, bombarding the viewer as would bright city lights and blinking neon advertisements.

This rendition of lower Manhattan is a far cry from the gritty urban landscapes of Davis's paintings in the Ashcan tradition. Here, Davis seems less interested in the occupants of the tenement buildings, instead embracing the modern energy and innovations. The artist was intrigued by that manner in which technological advancements altered American life. Like many of his peers, Davis also felt that artistic style and subject matter should change to reflect that. He adored the cinema. It is possible that he deliberately designed House and Street to evoke the frames in a strip of 35mm film.

This forward-looking optimism and embrace of progress typified American modernism in the works of many of Davis's contemporaries, among them Joseph Stella and Charles Demuth. While this painting is less abstract than Davis' Cubist-inspired works of the 1920s, it retains the Cubist interest in depicting multiple perspectives of the same image. House and Street also anticipates the artist's reliance on bold color and simplified shapes to articulate energy and rhythm in his mature work.

Oil on Canvas - Whitney Museum of American Art

More Stuart Davis Artwork and Analysis:



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Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Stuart Davis
Interactive chart with Stuart Davis's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart

Artists

Robert HenriRobert Henri
Henri MatisseHenri Matisse
Piet MondrianPiet Mondrian
Pablo PicassoPablo Picasso
Georges BraqueGeorges Braque

Personal Contacts

Movements

RealismRealism
CubismCubism

Influences on Artist
Stuart Davis
Stuart Davis
Years Worked: 1909 - 1964
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Wayne ThiebaudWayne Thiebaud
David HockneyDavid Hockney
Andy WarholAndy Warhol

Personal Contacts

John SloanJohn Sloan

Movements

Pop ArtPop Art
Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism

Useful Resources on Stuart Davis

Videos

Books

Websites

Articles

The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.

biography

Stuart Davis in Gloucester (1999)

By Karen Wilkin

Stuart Davis (1998) Recomended resource

By Rudi H. Fuchs, Lewis C. Kachur, and Philip Rylands

Stuart Davis's Abstract Argot (1993) Recomended resource

By William R. Wilson

Stuart Davis: American Painter (1991)

By Lowery Stokes Sims

More Interesting Books about Stuart Davis
Stuart Davis: In Full Swing

Whitney Museum's upcoming exhibition on Davis

Stuart Davis Page at Sullivan Goss Gallery

Contains biographical and exhibition information about Davis

Stuart Davis Memorial Exhibition Catalogue Recomended resource

Lengthy .pdf catalogue of 1965 traveling exhibition, Smithsonian Institution

Stuart Davis and American Abstraction: A Masterpiece in Focus

Information about 2005 exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Stuart Davis: Jazz-Inspired and in Perfect Harmony

By Hank Burchard
The Washington Post
May 29, 1998

Stuart Davis at the Met Recomended resource

By Hilton Kramer
The New Criterion
January 1992

The Apprenticeship Of Stuart Davis as a Cubist

By Roberta Smith
The New York Times
November 27, 1987

Compelling Show of Early Stuart Davis

By John Russell
The New York Times
November 11, 1983

Off The Wall: The Mellow Pad by Stuart Davis

Brooklyn Museum Curator discusses The Mellow Pad (1945-51) in this brief video

Art Professor Talks About Stuart Davis' Allée

Drake University faculty member discusses one of the University's most notable works of art: Stuart Davis' 1954 mural, Allée.

Art in Public: Stuart Davis on Abstract Art and the WPA, 1939

Audio-only recording of the dedication ceremony for several WPA murals in New York

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Jen Glennon

Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Sandy McCain

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Jen Glennon
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Sandy McCain
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