I didn’t grow up going to art museums. My parents never took me, but that didn’t mean they didn’t bring art into my life. Art was all around me in my childhood, strewn throughout my house—like a drawing by artist Wendy Johnson, whom my parents met on their honeymoon, and watercolors by the wife of my father’s favorite professor, James Oliver. A large, elaborate Persian-inspired latch-hook rug my father made greeted visitors from the entryway. And, perhaps most fortuitously, a drawing hung in our dining room my whole life, maybe longer, by Boston artist Paul Goodnight, who used to work at the MFA. I ran into him often, though it took me years to realize he was the artist behind that cherished piece in my parents’ home. It might not have been their intention, but my parents taught me what it meant to appreciate art and artists, perhaps indirectly leading me to the career I have today.
Stuart Davis’s Hot Still-Scape for Six Colors—7th Avenue Style is the first piece of art I fell in love with at the MFA. I remember seeing it on a visit in my early 20s and immediately finding myself lost in its juxtapositions of shapes and colors, its twists, its turns. I felt transformed looking at it—all without knowing anything about the artist who created it.
Davis has been credited with developing an American variation of European Cubism, and his techniques gave way to Abstract Expressionism, which took New York and the art world by storm in the ’40s and ’50s. He was an important artist with many accomplishments, but the first time I looked at Hot Still-Scape, none of that was completely evident. Instead I saw some of the things I later learned inspired Davis while making the painting in 1940, from the sounds of jazz to the sights of a bustling West Village in New York City, where he lived. I could see the movement in the streets and hear the smooth jazz tones emanating from the canvas. These elements drew me into his world.
The joy of art is the way in which it can be one thing to you and another to me, and neither detracts from the other. Art is a gift, one we can all receive. It manifests itself for many people in many different ways. And isn’t that the point? Art is where the freedom of expression meets the freedom of connection.
See Stuart Davis’s Hot Still-Scape for Six Colors—7th Avenue Style in “Art and Jazz” in Gallery 326, part of “Stories Artists Tell: Art of the Americas, the 20th Century.”