STUART DAVIS(1892-1964) A MAJOR AMERICAN MODERNIST TO EMERGE BETWEEN THE TWO WORLD WARS. HEAVILY INFLUENCED BY CUBISM AND EUROPEAN MODERNISM HIS ABSTRACT IMAGES WOULD LATER INFLUENCE POPULAR AND MASS CULTURE AND HAVE A DIRECT BEARING ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF POP ART WHICH EMERGED IN THE 1960’s: PART 1

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In this article I am going to be considering the major contribution of Stuart Davis , a revolutionary Modernist who spanned the period of abstract Expressionism including the emergence of pop Art. American Art recognises his talent in his ‘Odd 1924’

“Davis’s much admired cubism in particular the work of Picasso , Braque and Leger and in 1924 he produced Odd a clear paeon  to the Parisian avant-garde”. [1]

” With its tilted angles , textured surfaces and use of lettering ‘Odal’ recalls early cubist style-life, however Davis fragments his forms, significantly less and his introduction of words and packaging generates an entirely different mood”. [2].

American art compares the Cubists of France who used bottles and Newspapers while  Davis had a more mundane attitude to his work .

“Whereas the Parisian works tended to emphasize newspapers and bottle labels thus evoking the café culture of the French capital Davis focuses on something much more mundane”. [3].

” Marine Landscape 1937- Davis’s American scene painting however was in stark contrast to the Regionalism espoused by Benton grant wood and John Steuart Curry, for whereas  these artists reflected the Avant-garde development  Davis embraced them incorporating them into a style that made him the quintessential inter war artist”. [4].

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American art continues with its commentary on Stuart Davis.

” Davis’s use of sharply defined colours and flat patterned surfaces reminiscent of cartoons and posters brought a rhythm and vitality to works such as marine landscape”. [5].

  so many American artists embraced European styles and techniques such as Fauvism ,cubism and surrealism”. [7].

” However in the increasing isolationist political climate other artists and critics condemned the dependence of Europe reflecting modern art in favour of developing a more realist inspired art based exclusively on American Life and values (The Reactionary scene painting of Curry, Wood and Hart Benton)”.[8].

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Much of Davis’s early work especially before he moved onto abstraction is very reminiscent of Charles Sheeler and his precisionist work. American art continues with further insights into Davis.

” Davis was a strong admirer of European Modernism which he had encountered at the armoury show in 1913 and again on a trip to Paris in the late 1920’s”.[9].

” However Davis also valued the American environment and developed a unique style that combined cubist influences with the bright lights and colours of American cities and syncopated  rhythms  and dissonant harmonies of Jazz music”.[10].

Matthew Baigell in his concise History of American painting comments on the importance of Davis as a Modernist.

” Stuart Davis is the most interesting of the interwar Modernists especially in the way he combined formal values with environmental concerns”. [11].

I take issue with Baigell over his next comment attempting to compare Davis with Benton Wood and Curry who displayed the most reactionary depiction of realist art during the depression.

” Although Davis emphasized abstract forms and representational images at different times in his career he basically wanted to create like Benton a pictorial reality parallel to that of American life”. [12].

Baigell’s comment on American life doesn’t exist in Capitalist America , there is poverty and  exploitation.

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I have included both figurative images and the cubist influenced style he was to adopt later.you can see that Davis moved away from Picasso and Braque and embraced the synthetic style of Ferdinand Leger.

” But his sources (Davis) lay in the Modern milieu of the radio, television , the automobile and the Airplane rather than a dream world of earlier simple America (Wood, Hart Benton and Curry)”.[13].

” A student of Robert Henri from 1910-13 Davis turned to modernism after seeing the armoury show in 1913 , he was one of the few artists upon whom the exhibition had a telling effect”. [14].

Baigell explains how Davis turned to Modernism while other artists remained in the Realist schools.

” When others began to accommodate their styles to a more traditional mode after World war 2 he pursued his investigations of abstract form as well as theory”. [15].

“This phase of his art culminated in the Egg beater series of the late 1920’s based on the form of an eggbeater and rubber gloves placed on a table”. [16].

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Baigell goes into more detail describing the Iconography of Davis’s work.

” Throughout this period Davis developed his airless surfaces and his habit of juxtaposing rather than superimposing elements as if each painting were an assembled jigsaw”. [17].

” In the works of the 1940’s letters (Of Davis) His works became compositional elements more than signifers of words , solid bars of black might outline objects or became independent plane of colour”. [18].

Baigell concludes with a question Was Davis trying to create a genesis of forms which he talked about in his writings  of the 1940’s.

” His own ambivalence between finding the genesis of his forms within the design of a painting or as a result of environmental factors is well summarised in sdtatements he wrote in 1942-3″. [19].

This concludes my first part investigation into the Modernist Stuart Davis. In part 2 I will further consider his influence on Pop art and other artistic forms which emerged in the late 20th Century.

FOOTNOTES

  1. AMERICAN ART FLAME PUBLISHING PG.246
  2. DITTO.PG.246
  3. DITTO.PG.246
  4. DITTO.PG.260
  5. DITTO.PG.260
  6. DITTO.PG.260
  7. DITTO.PG.324
  8. DITTO.PG.324
  9. DITTO.PG.324
  10. DITTO.PG.324
  11. A CONCISE HISTORY OF AMERICAN PAINTING AND SCULPTURE. MATTHEW BAIGELL.PG.277
  12. DITTO.PG.277
  13. DITTO.PG.277
  14. DITTO.PG.277
  15. DITTO.PG.277
  16. DITTO.PG.277
  17. DITTO.PG.277
  18. DITTO.PG.277
  19. DITTO.PG.277-8

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