Born in Philadelphia, PA 1892
Died in New York, NY 1964
Stuart Davis was one of the preeminent figures of the American Modern movement. Born in Philadelphia in 1892 and encouraged by his parents, he pursued painting avidly as a teenager and went on to study in Manhattan under Robert Henri. Henri, the leading figure of the Ashcan School and one of the most influential instructors of visual art at that time, championed subject matter that laid bare the uncompromising and gritty reality of urban life in New York City at the turn of the century. The American realist roots that Davis developed during this period were stylistically redirected by his discovery of European Modernism at the 1913 Armory Show in New York (where Davis was one of the youngest artists included). Bowled over by the expressive colors and abstract forms radically proposed by Gauguin, Van Gogh and Matisse, Davis found a new way to articulate his drive to express what he called “human values through forms.”
Pioneering in its commitment to both realism’s sense of social values and abstraction’s instinctive embodiment of color, memory, feeling and ideas, Davis’ art achieved a formal breakthrough that portrayed, with resounding originality, that which Barbara Haskell, curator of his recent 2016 exhibition In Full Swing at the Whitney Museum of American Art, termed the “fragmented, cacophonous experience of modernity.”
The recognizable forms that Davis pushed to vibrant abstraction are rooted in the commonplace objects of daily life: an egg-beater, a matchbox, a ladder, a barbershop pole, a lobster pot. Many make insistent references to jazz - the artist’s other most significant passion - in the form of clarinets and musical notes. The use of text, crucially divorced from narrative and context, playfully engages in the language of advertising and shaped the advent of Pop Art. Davis’ crucial influence in the development of American Modernism, along with his work’s enduring ability to instill joy and create order out of the chaos, ensures his searing relevance.
For more information on Stuart Davis please contact [email protected]
Image: © Estate of Stuart Davis/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.