Hot Still-Scape for Six Colors — 7th Avenue Style
Stuart Davis, American, 1892–1964 American
91.44 x 113.98 cm (36 x 44 7/8 in.)
Medium or Technique
Oil on canvas
Saundra and William H. Lane Galleries (Gallery 334)
Stuart Davis’s Hot Still-Scape for Six Colors—7th Avenue Style captures the heady, sensory experience of the modern city. One of the undisputed masterpieces of twentieth-century American painting, the image is the visual equivalent of the syncopated rhythms of jazz, an art form also considered both indigenous and new. Davis evokes the energy of both jazz music and city life through his innovative composition of lively shapes and lines and his palette of vibrant color.
From the outset of his career, Davis was associated with avant-garde artistic movements. Beginning in 1909 he studied in New York with Robert Henri, leader of the early twentieth-century realist painters nicknamed the Ashcan School; Davis’s earliest subjects were the seamy urban scenes favored by that group. The 1913 Armory Show introduced him to European modernism, resulting in his determination to alter the direction of his own work. Over the next few decades, he experimented with simplified, abstracted forms, multiple perspectives, and collage, and he also started to incorporate words into his paintings. He used everyday objects and references to popular culture as points of departure, and the places he lived in or visited—New York City, Paris, and Gloucester, Massachusetts—recur as themes in his paintings. In the 1920s, Davis’s pictures bordered on the completely abstract, the objects in them often unrecognizable. His compositions became legible again in the 1930s, and at that time he also painted murals and made prints under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project. Toward the end of the decade he turned once more to abstraction. Through it all, his work often retained an underlying sense of humor.
Hot Still-Scape is a masterpiece of Davis’s late abstract style. Its enigmatic title provides clues to deciphering its content. The term “still-scape” was the artist’s own invention: a combination of abstract landscape and still-life elements he had used in other paintings, coupled with those he had made up. “Hot,” according to the artist, described the dynamic mood created by the juxtaposition of the six colors: white, yellow, blue, red, orange, and black. The designation “7th Avenue” refers to the New York City street on which Davis had his studio for fifteen years. link It was in the heart of a bustling West Village neighborhood with lively street life and noisy automobile traffic (indicated by the syncopated street signs in the picture), and just blocks from a number of the hot jazz clubs in the Village. A month after he finished the picture, he wrote, “It is the product of everyday experience in the new lights, speeds, and spaces of the American environment.” link
1. Stuart Davis, “Stuart Davis,” Parnassus 12 (December 1940): 6.
2. Lowery Stokes Sims, et al., Stuart Davis: American Painter (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1991), 72.
This text was adapted from Elliot Bostwick Davis et al., American Painting link, MFA Highlights (Boston: MFA Publications, 2003).