Stuart Davis (American, 1894–1964) / The Mellow Pad / 1945–51 / Oil on canvas / 26 1/4 x 42 1/8 in. (66.7 x 107 cm) / Brooklyn Museum, Bequest of Edith and Milton Lowenthal, 1992.11.6 / www.brooklynmuseum.org
This morning I was reading Hans Hofmann’s essay, ”The Color Problem in Pure Painting-Its Creative Origin,” which I can read over and over and get something new every time I read it. But, today it got me to thinking about Stuart Davis, a pioneer of American Modernism and abstract painting, who wrote extensively about abstraction, but whose writings are not easy to come by. Davis identified what termed the “color-space” problem. While I’ve been unable to study his writings, metmuseum.org writes the following:
Davis postulated that color could be used to indicate spatial relationships through its positioning next to other colors. Some colors advance, while others recede, which suggests the illusion of a three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional surface. [Read more...]
Now this theory sounds a lot like what Hofmann discusses, and while it is not important who was first, it is helpful to see that two important 20th abstract painters were thinking deeply about color and we know their ideas have had a significant impact on contemporary painters over the last 50 years. In fact, it was Stuart Davis’ paintings, more so than Picasso or Matisse, that first got me excited about the possibilities of abstraction. While I was in art school studying illustration, heavily involved in anatomy and figure drawing, I went to the Brooklyn Museum and was completely transfixed by Davis’ The Mellow Pad. I stood in front staring at the piece for about 20 or 30 min and it was all I could think about for days – the movement, the colors, the energy, the shapes and forms dancing and swinging across the surface were a revelation to me at the time.
In terms of abstract paintings that are built on flat shapes/planes of color, Davis’ work offers and interesting contrast with the work of Stanley Whitney’s or Hans Hofmann’s. While all three artists use flat planes of color to create spacial tensions and rhythmatic movements across the surface, in the examples of both Hofmann and Whitney we see color formed into geometrical shapes and planes, while Davis’ shapes are more organic (not biomorphic like Miro). The expression in each is totally different and unique.Tags: Stanley Whitney, art, color space, canvas, paintings, american modernism
April 8, 2008 No Comments