Stuart Davis

I. BIOGRAPHY

On December 7, 1892, Stuart Davis was born to two Philadelphia artists. His mother, Helen Stuart Foulke, was a prominent sculptor who exhibited at the annual exhibitions of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. His father, Edward Wyatt Davis, was a newspaper art editor who employed many of the period’s great American Realists– John Sloan, William Glackens, George Luks, and Everett Shinn. In the company of his parents and their famous artist friends, the young Davis grew up surrounded by art.

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At the age of 16, Davis dropped out of high school to study with Robert Henri at the artist’s school in New York City. His parents weren’t the least bit worried over his decision, as they were close friends of Henri and could not have thought of a more experienced mentor for their son. For the next three years, Davis remained at Henri’s school, where he learned above all, to capture “life in the raw.” Under the direction of artist John Sloan, the teenage Davis gained additional experience as an illustrator for the socialist weekly, The Masses.

In 1913, he was invited to participate and attend the International Exhibition of Modern Art (also known as the Armory Show). Davis later recalled that he was “enormously excited by the show” and was deeply affected by the post-Impressionist works by Gaugin, Van Gogh, and Matisse that were on display. Upon his return from the exhibition, the young artist vowed to become a “modern” artist.

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After the Armory Show, Davis redeveloped his style by loosening up his brushwork and perspective. Shortly after, he held his first solo-exhibition which was then followed by a string of shows at the Whitney Studio Club. In 1922, he became a member of the Modern Artists of America. As an established, “modern” artist, Davis gained entrance into the circles of the New York avant-garde. Over the years, he became close friends with abstract painters Charles Demuth, Arshile Gorky, John Graham and the poet William Carlos Williams.

In 1927, Davis encountered a crossroads in his career when he mounted an electric fan, a rubber glove and an eggbeater to a table. The Eggbeater Series, was then debuted at the Valentine Gallery. Upon the success of the show, benefactor Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney urged Davis to travel to Paris. With her financial help, he was able to go abroad for a year with his girlfriend Bessie Chosak. Once in Paris, he found a studio in the Montparnasse district, painted many Paris street scenes, and married Bessie Chosak.

In 1929, Davis returned from Paris to a changed New York. His mentor Robert Henri had passed away that year and the Great Depression was at hand. Amidst these hardships, his wife, Bessie Chosak Davis, died in 1934 from an infection that was brought on by a botched abortion.

Like many Americans of his time, Davis also suffered financially from the Great Depression. When President Roosevelt announced the debut of the first federally supported art program in 1933, Davis was one of the first artists to sign up. Between 1933-39, he completed several government commissioned murals under the auspices of the Public Works of Art Program (PWAP), the Federal Art Project (FAP), and the Works Progress Administration (WAP). With the financial support of the government, Davis was able to continue his exploration in formalism and American subject matter.

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Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, he taught at the Art Students League and at the New School for Social Research to supplement his income and promote his ideas on art theory. By the 1950s, Stuart Davis was already a fixed icon in American art. He was enjoying international success and married his second wife, Roselle Springer, who would later give birth to his only child, George Earle. Together, Davis and his wife would frequent local jazz nightclubs. Davis, a longtime fan of jazz and swing music, drew inspiration from the genres and was even friends with famous musicians, such as Duke Ellington.

Stuart Davis continued to enjoy success as an artist well into his later years. He received honors as a representative of the United States at the Venice Biennale in 1952 and 1954. In addition, he was awarded the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum International Award in both 1958 and 1960. On June 24, 1964, he died suddenly from a stroke, leaving behind a legacy of paintings and a reputation as one of America’s first modernists.

II. AN ANALYSIS OF THE ARTIST’S WORK

When the teenage Stuart Davis first moved to New York City, his talent in the American Realist tradition was exceptional. Robert Henri praised his work, and he was often compared to his colleague, Thomas Hart Benton, who was five years older than he. However, Davis’ artistic direction took a different course after he witnessed the Armory Show of 1913. From this point forward, it can be said that Stuart Davis and Thomas Hart Benton became lifelong rivals, artists of polar opposites. Whereas Benton became famous as a leader of the Regionalist movement, Davis would go on to paint abstract paintings and become a forefather of the Pop Art movement.

Davis’ shift to abstraction was not an immediate one. He took time in his quest to become a “modern” artist. He explored both Post-Impressionist and Fauvist canvases. It was not until the 1920s that Davis first began to truly research the European techniques of abstraction and Synthetic Cubism. The crown of Davis’ attempts to master Cubism occured during 1927 and 1928, when he mounted an eggbeater, electric fan, and a rubber glove to a table. He then called the Eggbeater Series and the paintings that followed, his “formula pictures,” claiming that the formula involved stripping down his observations of nature to their very core. In doing so, he could paint the same subject matter over and over again, with triumph.

For Davis, every object played an important role in perceiving the modern world, right down to the eggbeaters, gas pumps, matchbooks, and billboards used and seen in everyday life. His subjects come right out of the Jazz nightclubs that he visited and the metropolitan streets of New York City that he enjoyed. Even the specific language of American life during the 1940s and 1950s comes through in his paintings. Phrases such as “The Mellow Pad” and “Swing Landscape” are apt titles for his compositions of squiggly lines and flashy colors.

By painting the jargon and images of American life, Davis was one of the rare painters of the 20th century who successfully transformed a European style of painting (Cubism) into something truly American. However, by the time the Abstract Expressionists took the New York art world by storm in the 1950s, Davis’ art struggled to maintain its modernist edge. Another decade would pass before Davis’ visionary presence would be cemented in art history. In the1960s, artists of the Pop Art movement admired his attention to mass culture. Long before painters such as Andy Warhol and Ed Ruscha, Davis was painting soap boxes, billboards and gas pumps with a tongue-in-cheek wit that was ahead of his time.

William Merritt Chase, November 1st, 1849

Today is the birthday of one of the great impressionists.

William Merritt Chase was born in Williamsburg (later Ninevah), Indiana, in 1849, the oldest of six children. When he was twelve, the family moved to Indianapolis. His father hoped that he would follow him into the women’s shoe business, but Chase, who said “the desire to draw was born in me,” resisted his father’s commercial ambitions for his own artistic ones. In 1867 he began his training with Barton S. Hays, followed two years later with study at the National Academy of Design in New York under Lemuel P. Wilmarth.

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In 1871 Chase moved to Saint Louis, where he painted still lifes professionally. He attracted the attention of local patrons, who, in the fall of 1872, offered to send him abroad. At the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, where he received his most decisive training, Chase was one of the many Americans, including Frank Duveneck and later John Twachtman, studying there. After an extended visit to Venice with Duveneck and Twachtman in 1878, Chase returned to New York, where he began teaching at the Art Students League. He devoted much of his time and energy to teaching, not only at the League, but also the Brooklyn Art Association, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Shinnecock Summer School of Art, and the New York School of Art the last two of which he founded and was the most celebrated teacher of his time. As a leader of the insurgent younger painters who challenged the authority of the National Academy of Design, he was a founding member of the Society of American Artists and, in 1880, was elected its president. His large, sumptuously decorated studio in the Tenth Street Studio Building, which he took soon after his return to New York, was the most famous artist’s studio in America and a virtual manifesto of his and his generation’s artistic practices and beliefs, and of the dignity of the artist’s calling.

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In 1886 he married Alice Gerson, who was frequently his model, as were their many children. Chase painted a wide range of subjects, including figures, landscapes and cityscapes, studio interiors, still lifes, and, increasingly later in life, portraits, and he worked with equal brilliance in oil and pastel. Chase died in New York City in 1916.

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Cy Twombly

ILLUSTRIOUS AND UNKNOWN: this was what Degas aspired to be, and what Cy Twombly has become. His imposing reputation has an aura of myth and ambiguity, for reasons that have partly to do with the elusiveness of the artist himself (residing abroad and protective of his privacy), but more to do with the singularity of his art. Twombly first came to prominence in the later 1950s, when his graffiti like pencilwork appeared to subvert Abstract Expressionism. Yet he then sustained painterly abstraction through a time in the 1960s when the imagery of mass culture and the certainties of geometry seemed destined to kill it off. While linked by generational ties and friendship to Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, he has suffered from the fact that unlike theirs, his work – with no bold graphic or photographic imagery – tells little in reproduction, and provides no convenient entrance into Pop art. The elements of ironic realism in their art have been considered progressive and in tune with postmodern sensibilities, but Twombly’s unique combination of bare astringency and sensual indulgence has proved harder to confine within such tidy generalizations. He has further distanced himself from his contemporaries by embracing the classical past and reaching for epic narrative in an era when such models appeared wholly derelict. In addition, his work has often sought its own poetics by invoking the heritage of literature, during a long period in which “literary” was a term of condemnation. These commitments, and their author, have never found a ready niche in accounts of the progress of art since 1950. The countless paperbacks and catalogues that have canonized the line of artists from Pollock to Warhol as the mainstream of American art’s postwar ascendancy have typically neglected Twombly rather than contend with the ways his inclusion might disrupt that story’s flow. A fellow artist already saw the problem in 1955: “[Twombly’s] originality,” he said, “is being himself. He seems to be born out of our time, rather than into it.”

That assessment cannot satisfy: no person has such autonomy, and clearly Twombly’s art is specifically contemporary. Efforts to link him to the art of his time have left us, though, with an oddly piecemeal fabric of interpretations – one which only now, in the mid 1990s, appears to be assuming enough breadth and density to wrap the complex achievements of the work itself Over almost three decades, Twombly has been repeatedly “rediscovered” by American critics, in various ways. The white on grey paintings he made in the late 1960s were welcomed as having an anti-sensual, cerebral spareness that related them to Minimalism and Conceptual art; and the fascination with linguistic models of criticism focused special attention on the play of marking, writing, and schematic figuration in his work. Then, more important, American awareness of European contemporary art expanded: in the 1970s a sharpened focus on the art of JosephBeuys concerned with grand myth and history, but also esoterically personal and tied to a bodily animism began a reorientation that favored Twombly in other ways; and the advent of a new painterly expressionism in the 1980s, in artists as diverse as Anselm Kiefer and Francesco Clemente, further catalyzed a fresh assessment of his importance.

More recently a fraught concern with sexuality has appeared among contemporary artists whose anti-formal expressivity and candor about the body has opened still another avenue into Twombly’s complex achievement. As did the earlier frames of reference (Abstract Expressionism, Neo Dada, Minimal and Conceptual art, Neo Expressionism, and so on), this one can help us see valid aspects of the work. Taken in sequence, however, each of these terms has tended to exclude or ignore the others, and none accounts for the presence within Twombly’s art of all these, and more, contradictory climates of feeling. Offhand impulsiveness and obsessive systems; the defiling urge toward what is base and the complementary love for lyric poetry and the grand legacy of high Western culture; written words, counting systems, geometry, ideographic signs, and abstract fingerwork with paint all ask to be understood in concert.

In that complexity, this art has proved influential among artists, discomfiting to many critics, and truculently difficult not just for a broad public, but for sophisticated initiates of postwar art as well. It will almost certainly continue to defy ready acceptance by a wide audience, as its particular impact depends so strongly on the kind of direct response to physical presence that is resistant to verbalization and uncongenial to analysis. In the extensive literature on Twombly, many sensitive writers and acute theoreticians have already grappled with that difficulty, in efforts to capture poetically the seductive force of his work, and to analyze its singular aesthetic structure

Robert Rauschenberg

Robert Rauschenberg studied at the Kansas City Art Institute and the Académie Julian in Paris, France, before enrolling in 1948 at the legendary Black Mountain College in North Carolina.

Robert Rauschenberg ,Untitled, ca. 1954

As a young artist Rauschenberg married the painter Susan Weil. The two met while attending the Academie Julian in Paris, and in 1948 both decided to attend Black Mountain College in North Carolina to study under Josef Albers. Robert Rauschenberg and Susan Weil were married in the summer of 1950. Their son, Christopher was born on July 16, 1951. The two separated in June 1952. At Black Mountain his painting instructor was the renowned Bauhaus figure Josef Albers, whose rigid discipline and sense of method inspired Rauschenberg, as he once said, to do “exactly the reverse” of what Albers taught him.

1986 BMW 635 CSi Art Car by Robert Rauschenberg

Composer John Cage, whose music of chance occurrences and found sounds perfectly suited Rauschenberg’s personality, was also a member of the Black Mountain faculty. The “white paintings” produced by Rauschenberg at Black Mountain in 1951, while they contain no images at all, are said to be so exceptionally blank and reflective that their surfaces respond and change in sympathy with the ambient conditions in which they are shown, “so you could almost tell how many people are in the room,” as Rauschenberg once commented. The White Paintings are said to have directly influenced Cage in the composition of his completely “silent” piece titled 4’33” the following year.

In 1952 Rauschenberg began his series of “Black Paintings” and “Red Paintings,” in which large, expressionistically brushed areas of color were combined with collage and found objects attached to the canvas. These so-called “Combine Paintings” ultimately came to include such heretofore un-painterly objects as a stuffed goat and the artist’s own bed quilt, breaking down traditional boundaries between painting and sculpture, reportedly prompting one Abstract Expressionist painter to remark, “If this is Modern Art, then I quit!” Rauschenberg’s Combines provided inspiration for a generation of artists seeking alternatives to traditional artistic media.

Robert Rauschenberg (art director) for Speaking in Tongues performed by Talking Heads

Rauschenberg’s approach was sometimes called “Neo-Dada,” a label he shared with the painter and close friend, Jasper Johns. Rauschenberg’s oft-repeated quote that he wanted to work “in the gap between art and life” suggested a questioning of the distinction between art objects and everyday objects, reminiscent of the issues raised by the notorious “Fountain” of Dada pioneer Marcel Duchamp. At the same time, Johns’ paintings of numerals, flags, and the like, were reprising Duchamp’s message of the role of the observer in creating art’s meaning.

Alternatively, in 1961, Rauschenberg took a step in what could be considered the opposite direction by championing the role of creator in creating art’s meaning. Rauschenberg was invited to participate in an exhibition at the Galerie Iris Clert, where artists were to create and display a portrait of the owner, Iris Clert. Rauschenberg’s submission consisted of a telegram sent to the gallery declaring “This is a portrait of Iris Clert if I say so.”

By 1962, Rauschenberg’s paintings were beginning to incorporate not only found objects but found images as well – photographs transferred to the canvas by means of the silkscreen process. Previously used only in commercial applications, silkscreen allowed Rauschenberg to address the multiple reproducibility of images, and the consequent flattening of experience that that implies. In this respect, his work is contemporaneous with that of Andy Warhol, and both Rauschenberg and Johns are frequently cited as important forerunners of American Pop Art.

In 1966, Billy Klüver and Rauschenberg officially launched Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) a non-profit organization established to promote collaborations between artists and engineers.

In addition to painting and sculpture, Rauschenberg’s long career has also included significant contributions to printmaking and Performance Art. He also won a Grammy Award for his album design of the Talking Heads album Speaking in Tongues. As of 2003 he continues to work from his home and studio in Captiva, Florida.

Louis Schanker

Louis Schanker
Born in 1903, Louis Schanker quit school as a teenager and joined the circus, worked in the wheat fields of the Great Plains, and rode the rails. In 1919, he went to New York and began studying art. He spent 1931 and 1932 in Paris and came back “something of a Cubist”, becoming a muralist and graphic arts supervisor for the WPA and a founding member of The Ten, to which he was attached from start to finish.
Louis Schanker
Schanker was a radical among radicals. His conglomerations of color-patches, among other things, wrote the sympathetic critic Emily Genauer in 1935, are bound to alienate no small part of the gallery-going public. They did not alienate a small part of the New York art scene, however, and Schanker was invited to the Whitney Annual, even though he later protested against it as one of the dissenters. By 1937, however, even the hostile “New York Times” critic conceded that Mr. Schanker had a touch of lyric feeling. And in 1938, a writer for “Art News” declared that Louis Schanker’s delightful “Street Scene From My Window” calls forth admiration for its delicacy of color and kaleidoscopic forms in plane geometry.
Louis Schanker Schanker was also a founder of the American Abstract Artists and participated in its first annual exhibition in 1937. But a decade later he wrote: Though much of my work is generally classified as abstract, all of my work develops from natural forms. I have great respect for the forms of nature and an inherent need to express myself in relation to those forms. Schanker taught for many years, first at the New School for Social Research and then, from 1949 until his retirement, at Bard College. He was one of the major printmakers of the 1930s.

Theodoros Stamos

The youngest of the first-generation abstract expressionists, Theodoros Stamos was born in New York in 1922, to Greek immigrant parents. At thirteen, Stamos received a scholarship to New York’s American Artists’ School, where he studied sculpture. After dropping out of school in 1939, he held several jobs and concentrated on painting. While working in a frame shop in New York from 1941 to 1948, he met Arshile Gorky and Fernand Léger; during the early 1940s he visited An American Place, Stieglitz’s gallery, where he particularly admired the work of Arthur Dove. In 1943, he met Adolph Gottlieb and Barnett Newman, with whom he shared an interest in the sciences and primitive cultures. He frequently visited New York’s American Museum of Natural History. Stamos was only twenty when he received his first solo exhibition in 1943 at the Wakefield Gallery in New York, and by the late 1940s he was an established member of the abstract expressionists. Stamos’s interests were closely related to this circle of painters, who during the 1940s searched for profound truth and universally significant content through myth and biomorphic abstraction. The mature techniques of Stamos, Rothko, and Newman, based on expressive color fields, were subdued and tranquil in comparison to the explosive, gestural painting of fellow abstract expressionists Pollock and de Kooning.

Low Sun, Black Bar II

His earliest compositions, painted in browns, greens, and golds, evoke the appearance and texture of the earth—rocks, terrain, sand, and water. The forms resemble, in some cases, fantastic amoeba-like creatures and plants drifting underwater, in others, planetary bodies inhabiting otherworldly, barren terrain. Over time, the emphasis upon literal and material qualities gave way to a more ethereal interpretation of his motifs. He increased the subtleties of light and the size of the canvases; his paint application became thinner and the color range broader. At times, the gesture of his brushstroke, whether rough or delicately calligraphic, was more pronounced. However, his underlying intent remained to create imagery that would be universal in spirit, drawn from nature.

In 1947, Stamos met the collector Peggy Guggenheim, and fellow artists John Graham, Mark Rothko, and Mark Tobey, the latter during a trip he took to New Mexico, California, and Seattle. His first one-man museum exhibition was held at The Phillips Gallery in 1950, the same year he taught at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. In 1951, Stamos moved to East Marion, New York, where he developed an expressive color-field technique. Beginning in 1955 and for the following twenty-two years he taught at the Art Students League. From 1970 on, he spent part of every year on the island of Lefkada in Greece, where he started his Infinity series. After ending his teaching career in 1977, Stamos traveled extensively and had numerous one-person shows in New York and Europe. He died in Greece in 1997. The Phillips Collection owns seven oils and a gouache—all early works—by the artist.


A Short History of Abstract Expressionism

Abstract expressionism was an specifically American post-World War II art movement. It was the first American movement to achieve worldwide influence and also the one that put New York City at the center of the art world, a role formerly filled by Paris.
After WWII, with images of the Holocaust everywhere, it seemed redundant for socially-aware artists to paint these same images … a photograph at the time was much more powerful. Artists began to explore color and shape and to paint an entire canvas orange or blue.
These works were produced in an extremely specific geographical setting and revealed a specific attitude. It was the result of the rivalry and dialogue between young American artists and the large community of European artists living in exile in New York. Additionally, it has an image of being rebellious, anarchic, and highly idiosyncratic and, some feel, rather nihilistic. It is seen as combining the emotional intensity and self-expression of the German Expressionists with the anti-figurative aesthetic of the European abstract schools such as Futurism, the Bauhaus and Synthetic Cubism. The movement describe formal trend in American abstraction at the time. It can be broadly divided into two groups: Action Painting and Color Field and Hard-Edge Painting. It has its non-American parallels with similar aims (Art Informel, Cobra, Lyrical Abstraction).
By the 1960s, the movement had lost most of its impact, and was no longer so influential. Movements which were direct responses to, and rebellions against, abstract expressionism had begun, such as pop art and minimalism. However, many painters who had produced abstract expressionist work continued to work in that style for many years afterwards.

Action Painting(late 1940’s – late 1950’s)
One of the significant streams of Abstract Expressionism is the Action Painting. The term “Action Painting” was used for the first time in 1952 to describe the works of painters such as Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning. The life energy and the psyche of the painter were at once the driving force, the resource and the meaning of these works. The canvas was seen as an arena. Painting became an irrational, instinctive and impulsive moment of existence. The Action Painting work thus turned into the form and trace of the living body, conveying split-second action and motion.

Color Field and Hard-Edge Painting (early 1960’s)
Another significant stream of Abstract Expressionism is the Color Field and Hard-Edge Painting. The terms Color Field and Hard Edge describe two formal trends in American abstraction in the early 1960’s. Color Field works consist of large colored areas; neither signs nor forms existed for the eye to latch on to. Color was used without any perspective device, producing a sensation of impressive size. The shades of color were usually diluted so as to sink into the canvas.
The expression Hard Edge appeared in the late 1950’s to describe geometric abstract works, which emphasized colorful atmospheres and imprecise shapes. Hard Edge works were typified by their clearly defined outlines and edges and the precision and clarity of the compositions.
The Tea Cup