“With no more than a rectangular canvas and multicolor stripes, Gene Davis (1920–1985), considered a leader of the Washington Color School, created a richly varied body of work that looks as fresh today as it did when it first was shown. He is best known for his paintings of brightly colored stripes that were remarkably original when they first appeared in the 1960s. The large size of his canvases requires a viewer to consider the relationships and rhythms of color over time, more like a musical composition than the pop art images that emerged at the same time. This selection of 15 classic stripe paintings by Davis from the 1960s reveals the ambitious vision and accomplishment of this Color Field artist. A number of the paintings are nearly 20 feet wide—including “Dr. Peppercorn,” “Raspberry Icicle” and “Red Witch”—and have not been seen publicly in decades.” — SAAM
“I became convinced that the way to make really good art was to do the outrageous, the unexpected—to be a renegade. That was my philosophy—to explore the seemingly impossible in art, to do things that were new for their own sake, whether they were good or bad.” — Gene Davis
“I am like the jazz musician who does not read music but plays by ear. I paint by eye.” — Gene Davis, 1971
Gene Davis: Hot Beat is organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Commentaries about the artworks are written by Jean Lawlor Cohen, consulting curator for the exhibition and long-time friend of the artist. Virginia Mecklenburg, chief curator, and Joann Moser, former deputy chief curator, selected the artworks on display.
Images courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum.