DC -- Donald W. Reynolds Center (SAAM) -- Exhibit: Gene Davis: Hot Beat:
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Description of Pictures: Gene Davis: Hot Beat
November 17, 2016 – April 2, 2017
Brightly colored stripes multiply in rhythmic repetitions across the surface of a painting by Gene Davis (1920-1985). Remarkably original when they first appeared in the 1960s, these paintings became the signature expression for one of the leading Color Field painters. With no more than a rectangular canvas and multicolor stripes, Davis created a richly varied body of work that looks as fresh today as it did when it first was shown. The large size of most of his canvases requires a viewer to consider the color relationships and rhythms over time, like a musical composition. This selection of fifteen classic stripe paintings by Gene Davis from the 1960s reveals the ambitious vision and accomplishment of one of Washington, D.C.’s outstanding visual artists.
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SIPGGD_161202_005.JPG: They decorated the steps in synch with the new exhibit
SIPGGD_161202_033.JPG: Gene Davis: Hot Beat
Gene Davis (1920-85) created eye-popping works in the 1960s, a potent time for art an a crucial decade for the artist himself. His paintings from this period reflect a dazzling array of formats that he used, abandoned, and returned to throughout the remaining twenty-five years of his career. I have "a tendency to raid my past without guilt," he liked to say.
Early on, Davis wanted to be a musician, but he became a journalist, initially covering sports and then, as a White House correspondent, reporting on Harry Truman. Thus attuned to music and words, he played with both in the poetic titles that came to him, he insisted, as afterthoughts. Although some try to find musical inspiration in his stripes, Davis identified his color intervals in terms of space rather than sound.
When in his late twenties, Davis renewed a childhood interest in art and leapt in without academic training, embracing the moment's most avant-garde style -- abstract expressionism. By the 1960s he committed to the stripe, a motif he said "carried with in a built-in unity. And stripes feel right to me for some reason... They have a rectitude, an uncompromising quality... a monotony that appeals to me... If I worked for fifty more years, I wouldn't exhaust the possibilities."
SIPGGD_161202_043.JPG: I am like the jazz musician who does not read music but plays by ear. I paint by eye.
---Gene Davis, 1971
Enter the painting through the door of a single color. And then, you can understand what my painting is all about.
---Gene Davis, 1975
1960 Davis abandons “throwing paint with the best of them” and commits to a single form—
the stripe. It’s a “trite subject,” he says, just as “the American flag and Campbell’s soup
cans and comic strips are trite.”
1961 A Dupont Circle gallery devotes its entire space to Davis’s first solo show of stripe
paintings. At the event, some viewers sniff, “Awnings!” and one remarks that he is
reminded he needs new slipcovers.
1962 Davis shows five horizontal planks: four in solid colors, one striped. To the artist’s
surprise, an architect purchases them for $800—Davis’s first sale. Soon after, he
recommits to verticals, sensing that horizontals evoke landscape.
1963 Davis describes this time as an exciting period: “Optimism was in the air” during the
Kennedy era, and artists adopt “a common denominator” of bright colors and geometric
shapes. Poindexter Gallery becomes his first New York dealer.
1964 Star-making critic Clement Greenberg selects Davis plus five other Washington artists
for a trend-defining exhibition, Post-Painterly Abstraction, at the Los Angeles County
Museum of Art. The six share a passion for color and a dislike of thick paint and visible
1965 The Washington Gallery of Modern Art mounts Washington Color Painters, a showcase
for Davis, Thomas Downing, Morris Louis, Howard Mehring, Kenneth Noland, and Paul
Reed. All of the artists soak vibrant magna or acrylic paint into raw cotton canvas.
1966 Defying the easy drama of grand-scale works, Davis creates his first “micros”—tiny
canvases he carries to his New York gallery in a Sucrets tin. He begins using even
brighter colors, which he credits to a newly felt, personal optimism.
1967 Davis shows his “micro” paintings, stretched canvases (most one-inch square), in D.C.,
and a large stripe painting at New York’s Jewish Museum. He advertises for students in
the Washington Post and holds classes at his studio above a Richard Nixon campaign
headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue.
1968 With a $40,000 commission for a sixty-foot painting titled Sky Wagon for the Albany
Mall Project in New York, Davis quits his job as a magazine editor to paint full time. He
attends the opening of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, then called the National
Collection of Fine Arts, and proudly stands beside his own small striped canvas.
1969 Davis cooperates in staging a “Giveaway” at a black-tie event in the Mayflower Hotel.
Fifty copies of his painting Popsicle executed by others are dispersed by lottery. The
event intends to signal that the art market is irrational, art is a “priceless” commodity, and
the “color school” has closed.
SIPGGD_161202_079.JPG: I never plan my color more than five stripes ahead and often change my mind before I reach the third stripe.
---Gene Davis, 1971
Make good art for the moment, and time will take care of the rest.
---Gene Davis, 1978
SIPGGD_161202_089.JPG: Wall Stripes No. 3
acrylic on canvas
Davis described his modular works as architectural because they incorporated the wall on which they were hung. These works, known as “planks,” may have influenced minimalist sculptor Donald Judd, who reviewed and admired them in Davis’s 1963 New York gallery show.
SIPGGD_161210_04.JPG: Red Baron
acrylic on canvas
Davis often broke his own rules. In Red Baron he juxtaposed stripes of different widths and sets of colors. He identified such visual conflict as “inherent in my personality . . . a schizoid quality. . . . I’ve been hung up on paintings that are split down the middle.”
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2016 photos: Equipment this year: I continued to use my Fuji XS-1 cameras but, depending on the event, I also used a Nikon D7000.
Seven relatively short trips this year:
a Civil War Trust conference in Gettysburg, PA,
a trip out west for San Diego Comic-Con (including sites in Utah, Nevada, and California),
a quick trip to Michigan for Uncle Wayne's funeral,
a trip to West Point, NY for another Civil War Trust conference (visiting Manhattan on the way),
two two-day return trips to Manhattan, NY, and
a Civil Rights site trip to Alabama during the November elections. Being in places where people died to preserve the rights of minority voters made the Trumputin election even more depressing.
Number of photos taken this year: just over 610,000.