Stuart Davis is an American artist who probably would be much more famous had he not been a committed Socialist, working for the path-breaking monthly The Masses in the 1910s while beginning to develop a unique modernist american vision after experiencing the famous 1913 Armory Show of in Manhattan, a show to which he also contributed five watercolors while only twenty-one years old. The 1920s saw Davis traveling and developing a cubist style, but it would be in the 1930s that Davis became a serious fellow-traveler of the Communist Party, collaborating with the Artists Union, the John Reed Club, and the American Artists’ Congress which was an explicitly Popular Front vehicle.
Unfortunately Davis also was one of 150 “American Progressives” who signed letter to The New Masses magazine published May 3, 1938 that supports the Stalinist show-trials as “the efforts of the Soviet Union to free itself from insidious internal dangers”. The letter also criticizes “Troskyist enemies of progress” and supports Mexican trade unionists for condemning Trotsky as an “enemy of the people”. One only need read the history of the Spanish Civil War after the Soviets arrive there and begin a purge of “Trotskyists” (aka, “revolutionaries”) to understand the lethal struggle of the Stalinists against any and all to their left.
But such were the dangerous vicissitudes of 20th century politics and Davis’ reputation has probably taken a hit from his close association with the Communist Party while being a native-born “white” American–other Communist sympathizing painters of the 20th century are conveniently foreign and exotic (Picasso, Leger, Kahlo, Rivera, to name a few). Perhaps it’s a snide comment, but don’t the canon-creators prefer the white-American artists of the early-to-mid-20th century to be individualist, renegade, non-committed? ]
As is the custom in the technique laden descriptions of American artists, Stuart Davis is now popularly connected to Jazz. He is a “jazz painter” and this makes him quintessentially American. I have looked at this picture of Davis’ “The Mellow Pad” for quite some time. It was once the desktop image of a computer I regularly used. Look at it closely above…. Is that not a black hammer-and-sickle cleverly placed in the center of the image? Or am I imagining things? The stunning painting is at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Perhaps I should take a trip to Brooklyn. . . Happy Fourth of July.