Davis, Stuart (1892–1964) By Marie, Annika
Stuart Davis was a painter, printmaker, muralist, and arts activist who played a prominent role in the development of American modernism in the first half of the 20th century. Visually, he brought the formal and technical experimentation of the European avant-garde to depictions of the modernity of the American metropolis. As a prolific writer and powerful spokesman, Davis was a committed cultural advocate, working to explain and defend modern abstract art, promoting artists’ rights, and arguing for the democratization of culture and art’s formative impact on society. Davis’s early style relates to the Ashcan School, an early 20th-century brand of realism that combines a direct, spontaneous, journalistic naturalism with everyday scenes of urban street life. The turning point for the young Davis was the New York Armory Show of 1913. Through the exhibit Davis was exposed to Fauvism, Expressionism, Cubism, and Dada. However, Davis’s embrace of the formal rigor of European abstraction did not lead him to purely non-objective painting. Maintaining that form and content were equally important, he argued that European modernism’s visual fragmentation, instability, and simultaneity provided the visual means by which to express contemporary American urban life.