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Stuart Davis: Prints and Drawings

September 7, 2002 - March 9, 2003


Drawn from the Amon Carter Museum's holdings of works on paper by Stuart Davis (1892-1964), the exhibition Stuart Davis: Prints and Drawings in the Museum's Works on Paper Gallery traces the artist's repetition of sophisticated imagery throughout his long career. The exhibition features the museum's complete set of Davis' 26 prints, consisting of lithographs and screenprints, as well as 20 drawings, which served as source imagery for both his prints and oils. Included are the lithographs Davis produced in Paris in 1928-1929; his innovative series of four lithographs from 1931, which are among the most highly regarded prints of the first half of the twentieth-century; and his experimentation with color printmaking, beginning in 1939. The exhibition shows how Davis created complex images by continually revisiting his own work, expanding and repeating subject matter focused on Paris, New York, and Gloucester, Massachusetts. (left: Stuart Davis (1892-1964), Bass Rocks No. 2, oil on canvas, 1939, Acquisition made possible by a generous gift from Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass, Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas)

The exhibition complements the Carter's holdings of six major oil paintings by Davis. Stuart Davis: Prints and Drawings is organized from the Carter's permanent collection. The Prints and Drawings Focus Gallery, which sits adjacent to the Works on Paper Gallery, will offer an interactive computer kiosk allowing visitors to explore Davis' colorful life and career. It presents an in-depth look at many of his greatest works.

The two images of paintings by Davis shown in this article are currently on view in the Paintings and Sculpture galleries. (right: Stuart Davis (1892-1964), Chinatown, oil on canvas, 1912, Purchased with the assistance from the Council of the Amon Carter Museum, 1967, Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas)


Following are wall panel text excerpts from the exhibition Stuart Davis: Prints and Drawings:


Stuart Davis: Prints and Drawings
At age sixteen, Philadelphia-born Stuart Davis (1892-1964) moved to New York City to study with Robert Henri, the leading figure among a progressive group of American realists later known as the Ashcan School. Henri taught that the origins of art were in life rather than in time-honored, academic formulas. This investigation of the artist's immediate environment remained a mainstay of Davis' artistic approach for the rest of his life. However, Henri's young pupil departed sharply from his mentor by quickly moving beyond representational imagery to an intensive investigation of modern art. Davis was particularly fascinated by cubism, a French innovation whereby form and space were abstractly reconfigured.
This exhibition features the Amen Carter Museum's collection of Davis' drawings and prints; the print holdings are the only complete set in a public institution. For Davis, the act of drawing on paper -- sketching on site, formulating compositions for paintings, and working out theoretical musings -- was integral to his artistic process. Davis continually revisited his drawings for new ideas and expanded and repeated favored motifs throughout his long career, which extended over a fifty-year period. A single sketch, for example, could lead to the exploration of a signature motif that he would translate into paintings, watercolors, or prints, each medium affording a unique solution to a formal design challenge.
Davis' pursuit of printmaking coincided with the increasing availability of technical expertise and exhibition opportunities for American printmakers. The majority of Davis' prints are lithographs made over just a four-year period, between 1928 and 1931. These comprise twelve prints executed on an extended sojourn in Paris and five featuring imagery from New York City and Gloucester, Massachusetts. Davis made four prints during the late 1930s for special projects, including the Graphic Arts Division of the Federal Art Project. His five prints from the 1940s and 1960s furthered the artist's experimentation with the colorful palette so characteristic of his oil paintings.

Paris 1928-29
Like so many Americans with a creative bent, Davis gravitated to Paris during the 1920s. His growing reputation in New York City had led one of his patrons, Juliana Force of the Whitney Studio Club, later the Whitney Museum of American Art, to provide him with funds to travel abroad. The artist's Parisian stay, a period of intense activity during which he created drawings, oils, and twelve lithographs, lasted over one year. Davis was enthralled by the city's singular qualities and scale: "I liked Paris the minute I got there. Everything was human-sized. You had the illusion an artist was a human being and not just a bum." His work focused on the more prosaic spots, such as the hotels and cafés that sustained the American writers, artists, and musicians who were drawn there. As animated as the American jazz that was sweeping the city, Davis' buildings are propped up like playing cards, their details demarcated in a lively, expressive line. These playful images evoke the lighthearted spirit of the times and capture a historical moment when Paris held a special fascination for pioneering American artists.
New York and Gloucester, 1931
When Davis returned to New York from Paris in 1929, he brought with him a new appreciation of lithography's potential as a means of individual expression. He was also captivated by America's "enormous vitality." In 1931 Davis created a set of five inventive prints, representing an engaging union of process and subject, that are among the most remarkable of the era. The artist's imagery reflected an amalgam of cubist and surrealist (or dreamlike) elements based on sketches of his beloved urban and coastal environments. Unlike the Paris prints, these lithographs were created largely independent of oil paintings. Davis dispenses entirely with naturalistic space and relies upon lithography's ability to produce robust patterns of black and white for visual impact. These prints stood apart from other prints of the period because of their aesthetic originality, and Davis was touted as one of the most radical of the new generation of printmakers.
The WPA and Color Printing 1936-1964
Davis continued to explore imagery drawn from the Massachusetts coast in his lithographs of the later 1930s, a period when, spurred by the Great Depression and the economic plight of artists, he was a deeply involved social activist. As the depression worsened, Davis was unable to make a living from his art and, like many others, he sought government assistance through the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration (FAP/WPA), which paid him to make three prints. Although Davis' own work did not share the subject matter expressed by the majority of the WPA/FAP artists, who were moved by the times to voice social protest in a more factual manner, his creative output, like theirs, was informed by an emphasis on American subject matter. Along with his fellow printmakers, Davis held the widespread sentiment that prints, which existed in multiples and were inexpensive, represented an inherently democratic "people's art."
During the final three decades of his life, Davis created only a handful of prints, all bearing the artist's distinctive exploration of pure color. Printmaking in general experienced a decline after World War II; mass distribution of prints and their populist content led many artists to consider them a retrograde medium. Undertaken when Davis has the least money, his last few efforts to produce prints represented, in part, an attempt to attract income.


Following are label text excerpts from the Focus on Prints and Drawings Gallery:


Stuart Davis left high school at sixteen to study art with Robert Henri in New York City. The Robert Henri School of Art was well known for its revolutionary methods that encouraged students to use everyday life as the subject for their work. Students could be found sketching scenes of street life, theatre, and restaurants that were later translated into paintings in the school's studios. Interest in the unglamorous side of the city earned a group of these artists the nickname "Ashcan School." Davis noted that Henri's methods "developed the student's confidence in his own perceptions, it gave his work a freshness and personality...." The anti-academy approach of Henri was confirmed for Davis when he saw the works of modern European artists, such as Vincent van Gogh, in the 1913 International Exhibition of Modern Art, known as the Armory Show, in New York City. Chinatown and Self-Portrait, painted early in Davis' career are on view in the paintings and sculpture gallery. Chinatown is representative of the period when Davis painted in the Ashcan school style, and a few years later he demonstrates the influence of modern European artists in Self-Portrait.
Stuart Davis (#6) at The Robert Henri School of Art, 1910,
Collection of Earl Davis
Stuart Davis first visited Gloucester, Massachusetts, in 1915 at the suggestion of friend and fellow artist John Sloan. Sloan and his wife had spent the previous summer in Gloucester and rented this cottage again in 1915. The cottage was a gathering place for artists who came from across the United States to spend summers in Gloucester and set up studios in fishermen's shacks. Davis later said of Gloucester, "That was the place I had been looking for. It had the brilliant light of Provincetown, but with the important additions of topographical severity and the architectural beauties of the Gloucester schooner ...." Careful observation shows Davis wearing the same style shirt in this photograph as in the Carter's Self-Portrait painted four years later. Self-Portrait is on view in the paintings and sculpture gallery.
Stuart Davis and friends at Gloucester, 1915, Photograph by Charles Alien Winter (1869-1942)
Courtesy of The Cape Ann Historical Association
Seated (left to right): Stuart Davis, Paul Cornoyer, Agnes B. Richmond. Standing (left to right): Dolly Sloan, F. Carl Smith, Alice Beach Winter, Katherine Groschke, Paul Tietjens, John Sloan.
In the summer and fall of 1923, Stuart Davis spent four months in New Mexico with friend and artist John Sloan. Davis admitted that the majestic landscape of the area, which inspired so many other artists, did not have the same effect on him. "I don't think you could do much work there except in a literal way, because the place is always there in such a dominating way. You always have to look at it." Despite this claim, he did paint while in New Mexico, and one of the finest paintings from that period, New Mexican Landscape, is on view in the museum's paintings and sculpture gallery.
Stuart Davis in New Mexico, 1923, Downtown Gallery records 1824-1974, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
The following excerpt from the Davis' journal describes how he made his way to Paris: "In May 1928, Mrs. Juliana R. Force, of the then Whitney Studio Club, bought several of my pictures. Having heard it rumored at one time or another that Paris was a good place to be, I lost no time in taking the hint. With one suitcase I hopped a boat and arrived in the center of art and culture in the middle of June," The history, architecture, and picturesque charm of Paris had a tremendous impact on Davis, as seen in the sketches, prints, and paintings he made during his year abroad. A focused look at selected works, Spotlight on Arch No. 2, is available on the computer kiosk in this gallery. Note the similarities between the painting shown in the photograph and the five works in Spotlight on Arch No. 2.
Stuart Davis in Paris, 1929, Collection of Earl Davis
Stuart Davis was an ardent fan of music, and during his life he let it be known that jazz and ragtime were important to him. He equated jazz with modern art and felt that improvisation was the essence of the creative spirit. It was of no importance to him that most Americans thought jazz crude and primitive. Davis was introduced to jazz in 1910 when he moved to New York City to study art with Robert Henri. The jazz clubs of New York provided the subjects for many of his early drawings and paintings, and Davis thought of the jazz musicians as his other "professors." It was during his year in Paris that Davis discovered the connection between painting and jazz.
Stuart Davis, ca. 1926, Collection of Earl Davis

Stuart Davis began visiting Gloucester, Massachusetts, in the summer of 1915, well after the area proved inspirational to many artists. He summered there for the next twenty years. Having spent his entire life in cities, Davis found the quaintness of the town and lack of automobiles a welcome and charming change. He wandered over the rocks, moors, and docks, toting his sketching easel, large canvases, and backpack, looking for subjects to paint. A few years later, he reduced his supplies to a small sketchbook and a pen. This new streamlined system, Davis believed, increased his energy and improved his concentration and painting. All it took, he recalled later, was to "stop lifting things up and putting them down for a while." Davis' 1939 landscape from Gloucester, Bass Rocks No. 2, is on view in the paintings and sculpture gallery.
Stuart Davis in Gloucester or Rockport, ca. 1920, Collection of Earl Davis
Stuart Davis is shown here with his son, Earl, at age three. George Earl Davis was named after friends Earl Hines, a jazz pianist, and George Wettling, a Dixieland drummer. In 1952, the year Earl was born, Stuart Davis represented the United States in a solo exhibition at the world-renowned XXVI Biennale in Venice, Italy. Paintings from his Egg Beater and Bass Rocks series were included in the Biennale exhibition. A statement from Earl Davis is available on the computer kiosk in this gallery. Egg Beater No. 2 and Bass Rocks No. 2 are on view in the paintings and sculpture gallery.
Stuart Davis with his son Earl, 1955, Collection of Earl Davis
Stuart Davis is seated in his studio with the painting Premiere (1957) at left in the background. In 1956 Fortune magazine asked seven artists, including Davis, to interpret the packaging of consumer goods. Davis used his 1956 painting Package Deal and a bagful of grocery store products as his inspiration for Premiere. Davis often created his series by reworking the same subject or an earlier work. Pochade, seen here at center before color was added to the canvas, was later reworked by Davis as a black-and-white variation of the original color painting.
Stuart Davis in his studio, New York, NY, 1957
Photograph by Arnold Newman (b. 1918), © Arnold Newman/Getty Images

Photographer Dan Budnik recalls that Stuart Davis agreed to be photographed but worried that there would not be much to see as he would probably be sitting down most of the time. Budnik banged on the door of Davis' studio for a long time before he was heard over a recording of Beethoven blaring from inside the studio. Davis often listened to music and watched a muted television while he painted. The Carter's painting Blips and Ifs sits on an easel in the background. It is likely that this is the last photograph taken of Stuart Davis before his death in 1964. Blips and Ifs is on view in the paintings and sculpture gallery.
Stuart Davis in his studio, New York, NY, 1964
Photograph by Dan Budnik (b. 1933), © Dan Budnik

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