Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Night Life in the Day Time - Day 25

Walk: R/T car de Young Museum,2 Docent tours,2 private tours of Masters of Venice Exhibition
Distance: 16 blocks


Stuart Davis (1892-1964)
American Artist

One of my favorite American artists, Stuart Davis was born in Philadelphia on December 7, 1892 to Edward Wyatt Davis and Helen Stuart Davis. His parents both worked in the arts. His father was the art editor of the Philadelphia Press and his mother was a sculptor.

Davis studied painting, and art under Robert Henri, the leader of the early modern art group the Eight; he was one of the youngest painters to exhibit in the controversial Armory Show of 1913. Exposed at this exhibition to the work of such artists as Vincent van Gogh and Pablo Picasso, Davis became a committed "modern" artist and a major exponent and innovator of American modernism and abstraction. His work encompassed Ashcan Schools subjects in 1910's, the introduction of American cubism in the 1920's, WPA public mural projects in the 1930's, kinetic abstractions anticipating abstract expressionism in the 1940's and reductive abstractions in the 1950's. His use of mass-produced images of popular culture contributed to the evolutions of an American vernacular aesthetic that was embraced by pop artists in the 1960's.

By far my favorite of his styles are his Harlem 'jazz' abstracts such as the Hot Still-scape in Six Colors (1940, oil on canvas) at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.


The de Young has a good one which I've loved for a long time and learned more about on two recent tours given by docent friends who were qualifying to pass their second semester of Docent Training. ( This semester was on American Art).

The de Young Davis is entitled Night Life (1962 oil on canvas):

Night Life represents a culmination of Davis's love affair with jazz. He loved the sound and energy of the music and saw it as the icon of American freedom in painting. Other artists of the time - Jackson Pollack, Willem de Kooning to name two - also found sources of inspiration in jazz's improvisational forms.*

Others of his jazzy abstractions allude to the jiveyness of jazz, but it is in Night Life that Davis specifically identifies with the jazz pianist. He see the musician he portrays on the right side of the canvas as a fellow creator and performer who improvises variation on a theme through the use of composition, syncopation, color, tone, and harmony. The painting vibrates visually like musical pulses, fusing the image of the black musician with the dynamism of street noises, billboards, and other elements of the urban environment.

It is one of the icons of the de Young and worth a trip to the gallery where it is hung when you are there.


*The irony of this artistic freedom and the actual African American experience in the 1960's is of course glaring.


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